Thursday, October 25, 2012

Equator Time.

Sorry for the lack of updates. My phone doesn't do mobile posts anymore... But now you know where I am! Back in the Northern Hemisphere!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Lake Malawi

This is now the third time I've written this blog update, so hopefully this actually gets uploaded this time. Silly African Internet...

We had a great two weeks in Malawi - week and a half on the Lake. We spent time in Cape Maclear on the south side of the lake, and Nkhata Bay on the north. We kayaked, snorkeled, scuba'd, and obviously swam. A lot. It reminded me a lot of a tropical Lake Superior, and coincidentally, both lakes are in the top 10 biggest lakes in the world!

I love Malawi. It's cheap, delicious food - lots of beans for those of us who don't eat fish. The camping was cheap, the beer was cheap, everything was cheap. It was a nice break from the touristy spots of South Africa and Victoria Falls and where we're off to next... Zanzibar. We have been moving around with the same group of people lately. Meeting people in Blantyre and seeing them off and on again along the lake, we're currently traveling with some new British friends to Zanzibar. We ran into someone we met in Victoria Falls, and will see some more in Zanzibar. Africa is a HUGE continent, I don't fully understand how it can be so small, but it's nice to meet new people and hang out with them for a while.

Like I said, we're on our way to Zanzibar now. After a crazy day of boarder crossing to get into Tanzania (full of broken down buses and bus ranks at midnight) we finally got to, and then out of, Mbeya and are currently in Dar Es Salaam. It's a crazy African city. It reminds me a lot of Maputo, just bigger. Crazy drivers, kind of dirty, people of all ethnicities. I love it so far.

Tomorrow we're headed to Zanzibar, another one of the milestones of this trip. One month left in Africa! Crazy to think my time here is ending. It's been so great to see so many different parts of this continent that most people don't get to see. But I am excited to be getting on to Europe, to get home. We've been sleeping in beds for the past three nights. It's amazing. I can't wait until I can do it every night. That's all for now, time to explore Dar!

Lots of Love!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Great Zimbabwe

I had no idea what to expect when we ventured into Zimbabwe. I'm not exactly well versed on my African politics from 1980 to present, meaning the end of colonialism and each country's own civil was and how it is currently. But I knew Zimbabwe had had it rough, like most countries I guess. I had just finished reading Paul Theroux's "Dark Star Safari" where he travels Cairo to Cape Town overland. He came through Zimbabwe in the early 2000s, in the height of the farm invasions and the economic crisis. (If you don't know the President basically told the war veterans that they should take the white farmers farms, and so they did, many times violently.) The currency was horribly inflated at the time and as we all know it eventually got much worse. But that was the time period everyone seemed to be referring to when they said to stay away from Zim. I was interested, and a little anxious to see what it was like now.
We went from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo on the night train, celebrating my "birthday" with some gin and tonics. (i'm the only one without a birthday on this trip, so we made one up) We got to Bulawayo in the morning and after some hassle finding an ATM that would take our foreign cards, we hopped on a khumbi to Masvingo, and arrived in the late afternoon before jumping into a shared taxi to the Great Zimbabwe National Monument 25K outside of town. The public transport system is interesting here. There are a few khumbis for longer distances, hours or so, and taxis for short distances, but for middle, and even short distances, there are shared taxis, which are just 8 passenger mini vans that they cram as many people into as possible. We had 16 people in ours on the way to our campsite. But we made it and walked the kilometer in as the sun was setting. The next morning we rose early, as usual, and set off to explore the Great Zimbabwe. It was an extremely interesting morning, wandering around the ancient ruins of an 11th century city. Archeologists spent 100 years trying to attribute this city to anyone and everyone except the african people, but in the end it has been proven that a great civilization lived in this area far before people had realized. The most awesome part was the city slash fort they built on top of a hill of rock. It was full of so many little passageways and nooks we couldn't help but think how fun it would be to play capture the flag or other random games in it.
We wandered around for a few hours before we hitched a ride back into town on a school bus full of the politest 6th graders in the world on a school trip. They had some sports tournaments in some random towns and were getting in some learning in between their games.
After a stop for some take away of chicken and sadza (lipalishi), we got into a khumbi to the capital, Harare.
We got in at night and have spent the last few days trying to figure out busses and visas to get to Malawi. We'll have to go through the Tete corridor of Mozambique to get to Malawi from here, a grand total of 6 hours maybe, that will cost us $85, four times as expensive as our Mozambican visas for our vacations in Swaziland... "it's called reciprocity" they said with a 'tude. But we were successful in our Tanzanian visas, but not without griping about the $110 it cost to get it.
But tomorrow morning we'll leave Zimbabwe for Malawi, so I guess the question is, how was Zimbabwe? It's hard to say after only a week. The people are the nicest I've met since Swaziland, so friendly and smiling. The only trouble we have encountered are police officers giving absurd tickets to khumbi drivers, to the point where they are losing money on trips with bribes and silly tickets. It's been weird being in an African country and using US dollars. In 2009, the Zimbabwaen dollar had inflated so much, it was practically worthless (i an currently in possession of a 25 billion Zim Dollar note) and so they switched to the dollar. It's weird being on a khumbi in the middle of nowhere and some random grandma from some random town pulls out USD to pay. They don't use American coins though. I had some random quarters I tried to pay with when my total came to $1.50, and the lady said "we don't take that, we only take Rand coins." What?! How can a country use one currency for bills and one for coins and neither are their own? And they usually don't even have coins. Today I got change for my $3.30 in 7 suckers.
But all in all, Zim has been good to us, I've enjoyed my time here. But it's time to move on... Lake Malawi is calling. ;)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Victoria Falls -- Zimbabwe

Yesterday, after dragging ourselves out of bed (some earlier than others) after a night of booze cruising on the Zambezi, we walked back over the bridge we jumped off of 2 days earlier and into Zimbabwe. But before we crossed, we made sure to watch Eric as he jumped. It was so funny to watch someone else do it, having done it yourself, knowing how FREAKED they are. And just laughing. Ha. But finally, we wandered over the rest of the bridge, and into the Zimbabwean side. This is the actual town of Victoria Falls, made for tourists. There's nice shops and a few restaurants. People make it out to seem like a real touristy place, but it still has that African town feel too.

Today we took in the Falls from this side. AMAZING! We were a little disappointed with the Zambian side. They haven't gotten a lot of rain this year and it is dry season anyway, so the falls were almost dry from that side.... Not so from this side! About 1/2 of the falls are in Zambia and 1/2 in Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean side is lower so the water there is generally at a constant level all year while the Zambian side dries up this time of year. So today we were treated with the full effects of the falls - meaning we got SOAKED! But it's so hot, you were dry in a few minutes once you got out from they spray of the Falls. We sat and watched as people went into "Devil's Pool" at the top of the Falls in Zambia and were SO THANKFUL that we didn't do it!! I would rather have bungee jumped again. Devil's Pool is RIGHT at the top of the falls and I almost peed my pants watching other people do it, I couldn't imagine swimming to the edge of the falls!! I'm a pretty clumsy person on dry land, I would definitely be one of the 5 people a year that falls off the Falls.

But anyway, it's been a good trip to Victoria Falls. It makes me really want to get over to Niagara Falls. I mean if I've been to this one, how have I not been to that one. I'm even itching to get to Angel Falls in South America now so I can hit the big three. It's interesting that in terms of height, these three waterfalls wouldn't even crack the top 800 waterfalls in the world. Niagara is actually not high at all - 51 meters if I'm not mistaken. But they are all SO wide and so full (especially Niagara with a huge volume of water going over it) that they're considered the biggest in the world.

We're headed to Bulawayo tomorrow night on an overnight train from like 1910. After bungee jumping off a bridge built in 1905, I'm not too worried. Ha. We're off to "The Great Zimbabwe National Monument." If you haven't heard of it, Google it. If you're too lazy to do that, I'll post some info on it in my next update.

Until then... Cheers!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Victoria Falls - - Zambia

Well I'm feeling pretty good at the moment. It's a sort of "I just cheated death" sort of feeling. This morning, Anna Mae and I successfully bungee jumped off the Victoria Falls bridge!! It was insane! So scary, so awesome!!

We've been talking about this jump for, well, years. Literally. But it's always been so far away. "yeah i'm gonna jump... whenever i get to zambia.." Well we're here, AND WE DID IT! Neither of us slept well last night, and one of us had to slug a few beers in order to get any sleep at all. This morning we boarded the shuttle around 10am and we both sat in silence the whole time, occasionally bursting into fits of hysterical laughter, because that was the only thing we could do. We got off the shuttle and walked along the road towards the Zambia/Zimbabwe boarder (the bridge is in between the two countries). We both remarked how this is what it must feel like to be walking towards your death: the heat, the empty road, the numbness and acceptance that there's nothing you can do about it anymore. It took about 5 minutes to walk to the boarder, and 5 minutes at reception before we walked out onto the bridge. As soon as we walked out there, the guy held out a harness for me and I stepped onto the platform. No time to think about it; just how I like it. Within a minute I was looking over edge and saying the typical American line of "HOLY SHIT!" No sooner had I said it that the man put out my arms and said "5..4..3..2..1..BUNGEE!!" I jumped. Not as far as I thought, but at least it wasn't like the girl after Anna Mae who had to be thrown off. It was a weird feeling. The first 3 seconds you get that stomach in your throat feeling. The next few seconds your like "shit, i'm STILL FALLING!!" then you twist around a bit as the bungee kicks in and all of a sudden you're coming back up. The WORST part of the whole thing was not the jumping, not the falling, but the bouncing. The weightless feeling you got at the top of your bungee, just before you fell again, with no control of it this time. It happened at least 6 times and my legs and arms visibly shook each time. Finally, I stopped bouncing and was reeled up to the bridge safely to watch Anna Mae repeat everything I had just done.

It was an awesome experience I will probably never do again. Ha.

We then wandered around the Falls for a while, trying not to be a little disappointed in the lack of water rushing down the Falls. Apparently there's been way less rain than usual (and it's technically the dry season anyway) so the Falls were still cool, but not as epic as they can be. Thank you Global Warming for that.

Tomorrow we're heading out for a sunset booze cruise on the Zambezi before we head out to the Zimbabwe side of the Falls on Tuesday. Should be awesome! : )

I'm trying to upload bungee pictures now, but hold tight for more, the Internet sucks...

Friday, September 7, 2012


With just a little battery power, a little airtime left, and a weekend ahead with no Internet, I just wanted to put up a quick update. Namibia was fabulous. We were shown around the townships of Windhoek by the owner of Camelthorn Brewery. It was a fun time, wandering into shebeens and chatting with random people. We spent the next four days on the coast in Swakopmund - a town known for being "more German than Germany." We had a fabulous time climbing up and sandboarding down various sand dunes. But we mostly enjoyed renting movies and catching up on sleep in the sleepy little town. We're on our way out of Namibia at the moment and on to Livingstone, Zambia... or as most people know it - Victoria Falls! We are very excited, and absolutely terrified as we'll be bungee jumping from the Victoria Falls bridge. Think of us on Sunday when we'll hopefully be jumping! :/ Victoria Falls is on the boarder of Zambia and Zimbabwe, so we'll spend a few days on the Zambian side (at the top) before heading over to the Zimbabwean side (the bottom) for a few days as well. Should be an awesome time! I've been posting pictures on Facebook as we get free Internet, so keep checking there for some sweet pics. ;)

Friday, August 31, 2012


After a 22 hour bus ride through God-only-knows-where-Africa, we made it to Windhoek, Namibia a few days ago. We didn't have a lot we wanted to accomplish here, but one thing rang true with all of us... beer.

Windhoek brews our favorite South African beer, originally named "Windhoek." We have probably been planning a brewery tour for 2 years. Unfortunately, it wasn't until we came that we learned they're under renovation and aren't giving tours at the moment. : ( Fortunately for us, we had been to the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town and sampled a great craft beer called "Camelthorn." After chatting with the guy for a while, we learned it was a Namibian beer based in Windhoek! Score! So today, we're off to check out the Camelthorn brewery and taste some of their delicious beer. We've also learned that "Hansa" beer is brewed here too (though I'm still not convinced it's not South African) and we'll see how much there is to do in our next town and if some more free beer is in order...

We've spent the last few days wandering around the city of Windhoek, enjoying German Schnitzels and beers. In case you didn't know, Namibia was colonized by the Germans, however long ago. It's interesting because there are technically three colonial languages spoken here: Afrikaans, German, and English. Then there are at least 7 different tribes, each with their own language, or at least dialect.

Namibia is a fasinating country (what we've seen so far anyway). It is a huge country with only 2 million people, making it the least densely populated country in the world. When we drove in, I saw a sign saying we were 20 km from Windhoek. As the capital of Namibia, you would think there would be smaller towns, townships, something leading up to the biggest city in the country. Nope. It wasn't until we were 2-3km from city center that any sort of life appeared. Namibia is apparently just towns seperated by rolling desert hills. Beautiful, but weird.

We met a Peace Corps Namibia volunteer at the backpackers we're staying at, and he graciously invited us to come out with him and his fellow volunteers that night. We were quick to agree and we soon found ourselves in a big mall, eating pizza, drinking "Jam Jars" and surrounded by 10 volunteers familiarly all talking at once. We were in heaven. It's not like we haven't been with Peace Corps volunteers the whole way so far, but we're a small group traveling. There's something about a big group of American Volunteers getting together that makes me all warm inside... everyone talking over each other, complaining about life in their communities (though everyone actually loves it), dishing out the latest gossip in the PCV and expat community. We all agreed we'd missed it. Peace Corps Volunteers are in general, pretty awesome people, so we had a blast and made sure to hang out with them again last night, after a delicious dinner of springbok, kudu, ostrich, crocodile, and zebra. Mmmmm.

Tomorrow, we're headed to the coastal town of Swakopmund. Everyone we've talked to, every guidebook we've read, has said it's like Germany in Africa. Considering I've never been to Germany, I'll probably have to take their word for it, but it should be an interesting sight, a German town in the middle of the sand dunes of the Namibian desert. On the coast of Namibia are the infamous dunes that you see in the typical pictures of African desert, set up right against the ocean. Namibia was the first country in Africa that we saw as we flew to Johannesburg oh so many years ago... Our first glimpses of the continent were of this desert set up right next to the ocean. I'm very excited to see it from the ground. I'm also excited to hopefully do some sandboarding on the dunes. Should be fun!

We'll be in Namibia until Friday when we head north towards Angola and then east through the Caprivi strip and into Zambia to Victoria Falls. People keep talking about the bungee jump and I keep covering my ears. In my mind, it's still WEEKS away and I don't have to think about it, no one remind me it's only days away...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Goodbye SA

I'm having a hard time saying goodbye to this country, I've realized. South Africa has been a sort of "home" for us these past two years... An escape from the rural African life. Not to say parts of South Africa aren't exactly the same as Swaziland, but the feeling of crossing a boarder and going to a city with skyscrapers and malls and consistently hot showers was as close to going home as we could get. South Africa has always been our shining beacon of hope when life in Swaziland became too much. "If I can just make it one more month, I'll be in Joburg/Durban/Cape Town for two weeks." It's hard for me to imagine never coming back here. I hope that's not true. I hope I come back many many times. If this trip across the coast has taught me anything, it's that South Africa has so much to offer. We've seen cities and beach towns, townships and suburbs, McDonalds and Chicken Licken, black people and white people, and 11 different languages. It is so extremely diverse in everyway, and that is something I have come to appreciate, having lived in a place where 99% of the population is the same race and ethnicity. I love this country.

It's been such an interesting trip across the coast. It is such a great route to backpack, but not a well tapped one. Everyone goes to Europe. Not many people think of backpacking the coast of South Africa. Because of this, and because everyone does one of two routes (CT to Durban or Durban to CT), you run into the same people in each town. There's only about 50 people backpacking the whole thing, and 50% are going the same way you are, so you all get to know each other pretty well. By the time we reached Cape Town, we didn't go anywhere without running into people we knew... The Old Biscuit Mill Market in Woodstock, the reggae concert at the random backpackers, the bar down the street. It was fun. But now we're leaving our group of surf loving, coast travelers. Will it be the same going up? I've heard so, but I guess we'll see.

Anyway, this past weekend in Cape Town has been fun for sure. But we're ready to move on to places we haven't seen; uncharted territory... for us anyway.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Knysna's Nice.

Well, we did eventually make it out of the Humansdorp Wimpy. We arrived in Knysna (pronounced Nice-na) 14 hours after we left Jeffrey's Bay. Even though it was 10:30pm we could already tell this was a great town.

Knysna is a town situated on a lagoon off the ocean, with two cliffs looming over the enterance to the lagoon, called "the heads." If we would have had more time, we would have hiked up to the top of the heads, but when you only have a day, it's impossible to do everything.

We spent yesterday walking around town, "just getting lost" as the hostel owner told us to do. We wandered in and out of outdoor shopping complexes, had coffee at Mugg & Bean, bought a new tent for Anna Mae as hers lost a battle with the coastal storm the other day. We made our way down to the waterfront area, and enjoyed the views of the oyster boats coming in over a cup of coffee.

It was a nice relaxing day, we felt was well deserved, though we're still not sure why considering we sat in Wimpy's the whole day before... not exactly strenuous. ; )

Today we're headed to Mossel Bay to meet up with a German friend we met while in Jeffreys Bay. Then, it's off to Cape Town for the weekend, meeting up with all kinds of friends, old and new.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Well, we're currently sitting in Wimpy (a Burger King basically) in some town called Humansdorp, waiting for a bus to Knysna tonight. I thought this would be a good time to get in some updates.

We left Port St John's for Coffee Bay a week ago and spent two full days there. The first day, we hiked with a group 10K to a place called "Hole in the Wall." The waves of the ocean had created a hole straight through this cliff in the bay. Apparently, you can usually swim out to it, but the sea was so rough from the recent storm that I'm pretty sure you would die if you swam in it. So we swam in front of it and ate grilled cheese while watching the waves crash through the hole.

The next day we hiked the opposite way to some cliffs off the shore. We ventured through a cave that the locals used many many years ago to escape the rain. It was then used not so long ago to hold and hide guns for the ANC during the aparthide era. After the cave, we hiked along the ledge to a "natural jacuzzi." It turned out to be a small pool in a crack between the cliffs. Not warm at all. Not only was it not warm in general, it was even colder when the waves crashed in from the ocean, into the mini cave the pool was in. It was quite the experience. Finally, we ended our day jumping from a "small" cliff 7m above the river. "bungee practice" we called it. Freaky is what I called it. We'll see how bungee jumping will go in a few weeks...

From Coffee Bay, we hitched a ride to a place called Cintsa. Hitch hiking seems to be the most accepted form of transportation in this area... Great if you're traveling with two boys as I was then. It's cheaper, faster and easier. Not great if you're traveling as two girls as we found out today.

After a little bit of trouble getting into our hostel (it's hard to have them pick you up when you have no idea where you are), we finally got to the beach. We spent the rest of the day, and half of the next, just hanging out in the sun. The water has gotten pretty cold the farther we've gone so we normally just enjoy the look of the ocean more so than the feel of it.

We jumped on a night bus the next night and headed to Jeffreys Bay (aka surf mecca) to meet up with our surfer friends who had gone ahead, chasing the storm.

After an almost 3 hour delay in East London, we finally arrived in Jeffreys Bay after 2am and promptly flopped in a bed. We've spent the last few days enjoying the surf, sand and sun. I haven't jumped on a board myself, but I throughly enjoy watching everyone else. We headed down to Supertubes yesterday, where the Billabong Pro competition is held every July. We spent a few hours watching Shauna's friend Joey "surf the green" super tubes. (not a technical surf term at all, in fact, we made up a lot of surf terms).

But our time traveling as a group has come to an end. Anna Mae and I are making our way towards Cape Town now, hoping to get there by the weekend, while others are going elsewhere. I hope we will be able to all meet up again along the way, but it's a big continent so we'll see.

Like I mentioned, we're currently suck in a town with a silly afrikaans name. We jumped on public transport early this morning, hoping to get into knysna early this afternoon. Little did we know that we seen to have hit the end of the public transport line. With no khumbis going onward from here, we were forced to buy a ticket for a greyhound bus, leaving at 8pm. We're going on hour 5 of 11 here at the Wimpy, meal 2 of 3. We're holding strong for now, but I think we'll hit our limit soon... Like i've hit their limit on their "no-limit" cokes...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Port St John's

Hey hey!
Well today we traveled from Port St John's to Coffee Bay, yet another small picturesque coastal town.
We had a good time in PSJ, hiking to the beaches and waterfalls and watching sunset's from airstrips atop the cliffs. It is a beautiful town set where the river meets the ocean. They've had an unfortunate amount of shark attacks the past few years so we stayed out of the water, but had a nice few days anyway. The backpackers we stayed at, Jungle Monkey's, was an interesting place, full of older people who couldn't quite leave the 60's in the past. But they had some awesome live music including a former contestant on Idols SA.
But we're moving on, and today we hopped in our friend's car and drove the few hours to Coffee Bay. We'll be staying here for the next few days, hiking to a place called "Hole in the Wall" tomorrow after the boys have a surf lesson in the morning. Should be a good few days.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Hey Everyone!

Well we made it to Durban as PADI Certified Scuba Divers! We finished our scuba diving course on Monday after two sweet days in the ocean. We did 2 dives for two days and it was probably one of the coolest things I've done. We saw turtles and Manta Rays and all kinds of cool fish. After our course, we jumped on a khumbi in Mbazwana for the 4 hour ride to Durban. We finally left around 2pm so we rolled into the city well after dark. Having never been to the city, I was really happy I wasn't alone coming into the strange, huge city after dark, and our driver was very helpful and drove Anna Mae and I straight to the door of our hostel where, to our surprise, we found Eric and Mike Burke hanging out as well. We have been hanging in Durban for the past few days, cruising around town, drinking beer on the beach and (everyone else) eating sea food.

We're heading out tomorrow, after celebrating Women's Day today, and going to Port St John's where Anna Mae and I will continue chilling on the beach, planning our moves to the next beach, and the boys will head out for multiple day hikes, while Shauna continues to surf. It's quite the life I have to say. We get up whenever we wake up, walk around exploring a new town, spend the afternoon on the beach drinking beer, and then either hit the sack early or the town till late. Then, it's on to the next town. And this will be my life for the next three months. Living the dream, eh?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Goodbye Swaziland, Hello World! (Sodwana Bay)

Hey hey!
Just wanted to do a quick update for everyone!
Well #LongWayHome has officially begun! The last week or so has just been extremely long be exhausting. Saying goodbyes to anyone and everyone, packing my hut and preparing to leave my life. I spent a few days in town, finishing paperwork and such before my ring out on Wednesday. It was really nice, everyone said such nice things about me, I was really touched! ;)
Yesterday, I said goodbye to Ruby, Lewis, and Kerry in Mankayane and headed south. After a sketchy trip through the Sicunusa boarder of Swaziland, I got to Piet Retief, South Africa by 930am. I hope straight on another khumbi to Pongola and left relatively quickly (in my book anyway). An hour and a half and a few road blocks later we arrived in Pongola, jumped on a khumbi to Jozini. Again, pretty quickly we left and just a half hour later i was up in the Siteki of KZN, looking over the pongola national park and the low veld desert. Unfortunately, this khumbi did not leave so soon. After assuring Anna Mae I would indeed make it to Sodwana Bay that day, when I rolled into Jozini just before 2pm, the khumbi to the next town, Mbazwana, had virtually no one in it. Finally around 4pm we left, and took every back road possible to get there. But finally, just before 5pm, my khumbi arrived at the Mankayane of KZN, meaning no KFC and barely a grocery store, to find AM waiting for me, saving a spot on yet another khumbi toward Sodwana Bay.
As the sun was setting, we set off for the first of many towns/backpackers we had no clue about. After a little mishap and false alarm, and only thanks to a few friendly South Africans, we made it to the park gate around 6 where we were told "this is as far as your money gets you." um thanks. The backpackers was only a km down the road but it was dirt and confusing and dark so we spent the airtime to call for a ride. We finally got checked in well after 6, just in time for a meeting with our dive instructor at 7, of which we knew nothing about. Good thing we got there on time.
We're currently at Coral Divers in Sodwana Bay and are extremely thrilled with it all. They offer every course of diving class you could think of, the cheapest we've found - maybe in the world - with friendly knowledgeable staff, a bar and a full menu as well as self catering kitchen. Not bad.
Today was day 1 of our diving course. We spent a few hours in the morning watching dvds and taking quizzes on 3/5ths of our modules. We then spent over 2 hours in a pool learning the basics of scuba diving. Tomorrow is the last 2/5ths of our classroom lessons and another few hours in the pool. Sunday and Monday on the other hand will be two ocean "open water" dives each day before we will be certified! So exciting! I honestly never really thought I would do this, learning to scuba dive, but it's been really fun so far, way different than anything i've ever done before. I'm thrilled I decided to! And i'm thrilled this trip we've spent two years planning has finally started! Watch out Africa, the Swazi G8 RPCVs are coming!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Peace (Corps) Out!

Well, the time has come... My Peace Corps service is over. My two years in Swaziland - done.

It seems like not that long ago I was finishing school and telling people I was moving to Africa in the summer. Now, here I am two years later, telling people I'm going back to America. It's crazy how quickly time passes.

Yesterday I left my community and my family. It has been an emotional, exhausting week to say the least, but by the time pick up day came, we were all ready for me to leave. I got tired of people asking me if I was happy to leave, when I was coming back, and what I would give them when I left. My family was tired of saying goodbye and thinking about what it will be like when I leave. It was sad, but it was time.

Tomorrow, I'll be "ringing out," a little ceremony we do to signify the end of our service, and I will no longer be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I will be Megan Key, RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer).

I'll be heading out on Thursday, towards Durban to learn to scuba dive before moseying my way along the coast towards Cape Town. I'll be spending the whole month of August on the beautiful beaches of South Africa, which I am very much looking forward to.

After Cape Town, it's on to Namibia, Vic Falls, Malawi, Zanzibar and Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda before heading up to Europe on Nov 2 for a few weeks in Italy, France and London before heading home on Nov 19 in time for Turkey Day!

It's a big trip coming up. One crazy venture ending and one starting. But I am excited to be making my way towards home... even though its the #LongWayHome. I'm excited to see everyone, to watch TV, to shower consistently, to eat good food and just soak up life in the land of plenty.

I will miss my time here, without a doubt. I don't think it's really hit me yet that I won't see my family again, or take a khumbi down that horrible dirt road or sit around the wood burning stove trying desperately to keep warm. I won't see my sisi's baby be born, I won't see my little kids grow up, I won't hear the girls sing at 6am while washing or my sisi's giggling together. But I'm still not sure it's hit me yet. I'm still in town, I'm just going on vacation, right?

I don't think any of this will really hit me until I lay in my bed in Minnetonka and realize this experience, this crazy adventure, is over. What will I do then?

Friday, July 27, 2012

One Last Library Picture

Here's how the library at the Primary School looks as of today, my last "working" day. Craig will continue to work with them after I'm gone, as will the new volunteer when she comes in late August.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Whew. It’s been a long and crazy second to last week in my community. Long, crazy, exhausting and emotional. And I still have a week to go.

I spent Monday in town, buying roofing materials for our library. Yes, roofing! We’re that far already. The school contributed the money for the blocks and cement and built the walls, so we’re using the money from the Kirby Simon Trust to put a roof on. I am thrilled that we were able to buy everything before I left, so I don’t have to dump it on the next volunteer!

Unfortunately, they weren’t able to deliver the materials until Wednesday, and even with that, they only delivered half of the supplies. But we’re pressing on anyway, and the timber went up on the roof today, ready for the corrugated iron on top.

I thought I would get home early on Wednesday, give my sisi time to braid my hair so I could have a sweet hair do for my retirement party on Friday. Little did I know what was actually in store for me Wednesday afternoon…

I was hanging out, playing Spider solitare (and losing), waiting for my ride home, when the Secretary came and said “Asambe, sisi! (Let’s go!) To the Home Economics building.” So I followed, with really nothing else to do, and I walked in the door to find two GIGANTIC cow heads in the sink. And that was just the first thing I noticed. There were hearts and livers and lungs spread out all over the floor, and what I later found out was a large garbage can FULL of intestines and stomachs (as you know, cows have 4). It was another one of those moments where, even after 2 years, I think “yup, I’m not in Kansas anymore…” I then proceeded to make it very clear to anyone who would listen that I DO NOT eat the insides. (My days of “all in the name of integration” are over.) We hung out while teachers came in and out, cutting up the hearts and livers and I figured I could handle this, I did want to be a doctor back in the day, and this isn’t so bad. Then some women came and they opened the big trashcan full of intestines and started to clean them, because, after all, they were full of shit. Literally.

The Secretary then said “Asambe, sisi” and I wearily followed again, not knowing what we were going to walk into next. “We are going to chop meat,” to which I thought, that I could handle. Well apparently “meat” means anything inside the cow because the next thing I know, I’m cutting intestines still full of shit and all 4 stomachs of the cow, into bite sized pieces. Awesome. You’d think after 2 years I’d learn to ask before I willingly follow someone into situations like this, but no. So I’m chopping, and I’m chopping, and I’m trying not to vomit. And finally we finish cutting all 8 buckets of guts to find, to everyone else’s delight, someone has provided us with a snack! … of cooked intestines. It’s now going on 4:30 and I’m dog tired, having planned on being home hours ago. But I put on a good face, say “no thanks!” and try to keep my eyes open and from shivering too much, as the sun has now gone down.

Unfortunately, we STILL couldn’t go home, because we were waiting for the men who had taken the REAL meat to be braai’d a half hour away to come back so they could eat too. A half hour or so later, they came back, with “red meat” for us to eat. Thank God, I thought, and I allowed myself to be dished the real Swazi braai of a huge serving of liphalishi and braai’d meat. And as I finally allow myself to eat the real meat, I can’t shake the smell of the shit filled intestines and it’s making my stomach curl. Well I finally realized it’s because I was holding the intestines in my right hand, helping the Secretary to cut the meat, then I rinsed my hand under water before I ate the braai with my right hand, as is Swazi custom. Obviously the smell (and most of the germs I bet) hadn’t gotten off of my hand and I was having all I could do to control my dry heaves, while trying to finish this huge portion I was served. So I was not paying attention when I ate, what I thought was just a fatty piece of meat. I finally realized this was NOT meat, and then noticed the curled shape of the intestines. Someone had tricked me! But I thought, at least I could say I tried it again, even if it was accidental, and I reaffirmed the fact that intestines were not for me.

Finally, we were able to go home, and I wandered into my homestead after 6pm, well after dark, much to the surprise of my family. I felt like I was coming home past curfew. Incase you didn’t know about my life here, I have NEVER come home after 6pm. Ever.

The next day (yesterday), as I left for school again, my sisis made sure to remind me they wanted to watch a movie so I shouldn’t come back so late. I said I would try. I spent most of the morning, typing programs for the party the next day (Surprise! You’ll be speaking!) and tests for the upcoming exams… if the teacher’s don’t continue their strikes. I thought I was going crazy because I couldn’t shake the smell of dog food all day, and Lord knows, no one buys dog food out here. Then as lunchtime rolled around, the Secretary comes in with a plate for me… liphalishi and cow stomach. I seriously had to repress the urge to vomit. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a cow stomach, but it looks like a sea urchin; one part looks like a net, another is hairy. All are gross. I politely declined, knowing there was no way I could even pretend to eat it. So she left it in the office with me, for her dinner later. Thanks for that smell all day. So I was eager to get out and help chopping vegetables. But when I got there, the only thing they needed help with was cooking the left over intestines on the fire outside. Fortunately we were outside so after I put the lid on the pot over the fire, I couldn’t smell it. We then proceeded to chop and peel butternuts (SUPER HARD!!) well into the evening again. I think I held my own with it, but I was nowhere near as fast as the other women. They kept switching my knives, thinking each was too dull, I finally told them I thought it was user error and that got quite a few laughs.

I once again got home way past dark, though this time I couldn’t just crash and spent most of the night trying to write a Thank You Speech that wouldn’t reduce me to tears. Considering I was crying writing it, I knew that was hopeless.

Today, I woke up early and practiced the siSwati phrases I had in my back pocket, ready to pull out and wow the crowd. I headed to the school, and met up with my boss, the Country Director, and the Deputy Ambassador who were also invited. We toured our library, and then hung out waiting for the party that started at 9:30… by 11 we were finally underway. It was a great party, full of dancing and singing (thankfully not by me) and lots of praises to the two retiring Mrs. Dlaminis and me. When the first person turned to me in their speech and thanked me for what I had done for the community and my eyes watered, I knew it was going to be a long day. By the fifth, I knew it was hopeless for me to think I would make it through my speech. And when Mrs. Nxumalo had the kids stand and say “GOODBYE SETHABILE!!” I was done for. After the gifts were given, it was time for my speech. I wish I could say I nailed it, but I barely made it two sentences before my voice cracked and two paragraphs before I couldn’t continue and my sisi came out of the crowd to cry with me. But I pushed on and, though it was in a voice I didn’t recognize as my own, I did nail my siSwati.

It was another long afternoon of cleaning up, but I ended it with opening my gifts with my sisis in the kitchen a few minutes ago. I got a beautiful hand woven bag and wooden hand carved tray as well as a wooden replica of my hut. I also got a towel set and a hairdryer. I gladly passed these things on to my two sisis who you would have thought had won the lottery. One has been trying to start her own little salon business and was ecstatic to have the hair dryer and the other got 6 towels! : )

All in all, it was a great week, one of those crazy, emotional ones I won’t forget. I’m eager to see what next week, my last week, has in store. But next weekend will be the real tear jerker, as I leave Monday morning. Goodbyes are so hard…

Here’s my speech from today:

Sanibonani, boNkhosi. (Hello, everyone)
Ninjani? (How are you?)
Mine Sethabile Shabalala (I am Sethabile Shabalala)
or Megan Key.
As you know, I have been here in Magubheleni for 2 years.
Sengitonivalelisa, (I have come to say goodbye)
as my time here is now over.
Ngiyabonga kakhulu kungiphatsa kahle kwenu boNkhosi. (Thank you for treating me so well.)

I have enjoyed my two years here with you, in the community and at the schools.

You have treated me well as if I were your own. It is very nice to be treated so well when you are so far from home.

You have taught me your culture, your language, and your ways of living. I think every lesson I learned, ended with “Now you will be a good ‘makoti’.” I hope someday I will and I will remember my time here.

There are so many people to thank for a great two years:

Thank you to umphakatsi, Babe Indvuna and Bucopho for letting me stay here and for your support. And thank you to my cownterparts: Khosi and Phumzile. Together with them, we were able to hold health workshops last year and start a garden at the ‘lidladla’ at Silaheni.

Thank you to everyone at the schools: Mrs. Gwebu, Mr. Ndlagamandla and all the teachers and staff. Thank you for making me feel like a part of your school community. Thank you for your interest in bettering your children’s education through reading books. Because of that we were able to receive 1000 books at the High School and begin building a library here at the Primary School. And thank you to the children for always yelling: “Sethabile! How are you?!” when I walked into the gates, making me feel welcome and loved.

Lastly, thank you to ALL the people of Magubheleni. I have enjoyed meeting you, and getting to know you. Thank you for being so warm and welcoming to me. Because of you, I will always have a home in Magubheleni, Swaziland.

Ngiyabonga kakhulu, bangani bami. (Thank you, my friends)
Inkhosi inibusise. (God bless you)
Ngiyonikhumbula njalo. (You will be with me always)
Salani kahle. (Stay well)

- 9 days –

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fighting fires

Fighting the brush fires at Kerry's... Save the tomatoes!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Let's Read Some Books! (Soon)

Here are some pictures of the library we are building at the Primary School! Thank you to the Kirby Simon Trust and the US Embassy!

When the teacher's strike calms down, I'll get pictures of our Books for Africa Library at the High School that you all so graciously donated to! Thank you Thank you!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Notion of Home

Hello Everyone!

Yes, I’m still here. Sorry for the lack of updates in May. With two weeks in Mozambique, a week running around trying to get library updates at the schools and garden updates at the NCP, then Bushfire and COS conference, I’ve now been home for this weekend, studying for the GRE, before I leave tomorrow for Joburg to take my test and then spend three days in town for my close of service physical. You aren’t the only ones wondering if I’m still around, my community is wondering too! Busy, busy, busy.

Anyway, I thought an update would be a perfect way to take a break from studying. Let’s see how much I can say before my guilt of avoiding studying gets the better of me.

Mozambique was wonderful as always. I’ll try to post some picturesr within the week during my medical. We traveled all the way up to Vilanculos this time, a new place for us. It was beautiful. Known for the Archipelago and as the best diving spots in the area, I didn’t get to see/do either, but I could imagine. I did make the decision to get my diving certification during our travels though. I haven’t wanted to spend 4 days of my vacation getting certified but when I have the time after COS, I figured, why not? Should be fun… right Mom? We came back from Vilanculos in a day, which was crazy. We were on public transport from 1am to 7pm, all the way from Vilanculos, Mozambique to Mankayane, Swaziland. I was impressed with myself.

I spent the next week trying to talk to all the school about library projects. The books were FINALLY filled and shipped from America so they’ll (hopefully) be here at the end of the month. We also received awesome news that our library at the Primary School was funded through the Kirby Simon Trust and the US Embassy! We hope to start building by the end of this week! (yeah right) I don’t technically have a role in this project, its between the school and the Embassy, so it shouldn’t delay me in my attempt to get out of here in the end of July, but I keep telling everyone it HAS to be done before I leave. We’ll see how far we get.

Then as soon as I got unpacked from Mozambique, it was time to head off to Bushfire/COS Conference. Bushfire is a large music/arts festival held at really the only large music venue in the country, House on Fire. There were lots of local artists, South African artists, African artists, and even a few American ones! If you’re interested in any, we thoroughly enjoyed Jeremy Loops and Mi Casa. Look ‘em up! It was nice to spend time with all the volunteers, especially since these times are numbered!!

My group then headed to our Close of Service Conference. It was an interesting day and a half. Talking about returning home, the logistics as well as the emotional side of it. You expect it to be hard and different when you come to a foreign place. “Swaziland? Yeah that’ll be weird.” But America is home and I guess we just think it’ll be like, well going home. And it’s not. In reality, home is the foreign place now. They say it can be as hard to leave the Peace Corps, as it is to be in it. And as one volunteer said, “My problem is I’m 23 years old and I’ve already had the experience of a life time.” How do you just go back to doing the same thing you did before after something like this? You can’t. Things have changed. I’ve changed.

It’s a weird concept for me to get a grasp of these days, that my Peace Corps service is over. For so long, it seemed never ending. Two years? God, that’ll take FOREVER! Well forever has come and gone and here I am with 8 weeks left. What am I supposed to do with my life now?

Travel. That’s my only answer, I guess. Delay the inevitable for a bit longer. Stay in my little bubble of a world that I’ve lived in for two years, where I can get up (or not get up) whenever I want, work (or not) whenever I want, and travel whenever I want with no real responsibilities, no real expenses. Hang onto my time in Africa for a few months longer; see as much as I can see. Victoria Falls, Lake Malawi, Mt Kilimanjaro, and Zanzibar. Delay leaving the simplicity of life here; adding to it even, by living out of a backpack for 4 months. Move on to see this “Europe” I’ve learned so much about in my 23 years.

But eventually the inevitable will come and I’ll return home. On November 19 to be exact. I am excited, I really am. I miss my mom and dad and brother and sister. And all my friends and family. I miss good pizza, good coffee, the ability to choose from 50 different boxes of cereal, the ice rink, having a car. But I am extremely hesitant to leave this lifestyle. It was all so hard to get used to: the slow walk, the “we’ll do it eventually,” the showing up to a meeting whenever you can get there, if at all, attitude. But I adjusted. To the fact that I could just say I would be gone this day and that, and that was that. No real vacation days, no one saying, “well, no actually you can’t. you have to work.” And I’ll adjust again, eventually. It’ll just take time.

I remember when I was at school, getting confused which “home” was which: my apartment or my parents’ house? Now that confusion is a million times more. For two straight years, this community, this hut, this family: this is home. It’s where I’m known and respected. It’s where I feel safe and accepted. I have my routines and I understand theirs. Where I come to relax; where I walk in and think “Whew! I’m home!” America is where they speak my language, where we wear pants, where I was born and raised. Obviously that’s my home too. Minnetonka is where my family is, and my bed. But home, who really knows anymore?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

The seedlings are growing, the seedlings are growing!!

The NCP garden is looking greener and greener everyday!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

G10 Invitees

I didn't talk with any volunteers before I came. I didn't want to get too many expectations before I got there. But I did search blogs. People always tell Invitees, mostly on the PC Swaziland Facebook group, "let me know if you have any questions!!" We are always so happy to answer questions. The problem is, if you're like me, you don't have any questions. You don't know what to ask. So you search blogs for the answers to questions you didn't know you had yet. At least that's what I did.

With that in mind, I decided on the khumbi today to write out all the things I wish I'd known before I left. Hopefully in someone's frantic Googling, this helps. Maybe you're coming to Swaziland or maybe you're going somewhere else and randomly stumbled upon it. But here is a quickly thought up list of things I wish I'd known two years ago...

Most important things:

1. Take everything other volunteers say with a grain of salt. (even me!)
a. Everyone’s service is different. You live in different areas, different housing, different situations. No one, even in a country the size of Swaziland, has the same situation.
b. When volunteers get together, we like to vent. So you might not get an accurate description.
c. We also get really excited around other Americans and just talk all the time. Forgive us.

2. It’s important to make the effort. Wear the skirts, attempt the language, try the weird food. It goes an insanely long way. More than you can ever know.

3. This will be hard. You will be homesick, you will miss important events, you will be sad. But what got me through is to know that these days will happen. If you know they will come, you can get through them. Two years is a long time, but you will be surprised how fast it goes.

4. It gets cold in Africa in the winter (April to September). Bring layers and slippers.

5. Be prepared for the HIV and Gender Inequality.

6. Don’t ship with anything other than a USPS box. It will take 3 weeks for USPS flat rate boxes and FOREVER with other random boxes.

Not As Important but Still Good to Know:

7. Don’t judge Peace Corps by training. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s only a blip on your Peace Corps service. Give the rest a chance before you judge it.

8. Don’t be a site rat. There’s an idea that you’re not a good volunteer unless you’re miserable. Having been there a few times I can tell you, you are a horrible volunteer if you don’t want to be there. Do your community a favor, get out if you need to. Go to KFC, ride in an elevator, talk to an American, watch TV. You’ll come back to site a better volunteer. Trust me.

9. You will be asked to marry someone more times than you can count. Men and Women. Young and Old. It will get annoying, it will get frustrating. But it’s important to remember they don’t mean harm. They think it’s funny. If you take this sort of aggravation to heart and get upset, it will be a long two years…

10. Get your electronics insured. You probably won’t need it, but things get stolen and it saved many people in Group 9.

Things To And Not To Bring:

11. Bring your computer. No question.

12. A good idea is to bring an iPhone or Blackberry (or whatever else there is) and get it unlocked in America, ready to just put in a SIM card when you get here. Then buy a cheap phone here to use around your community, but your other phone can be for internet and What’s App. If you don’t have What’s App, download it. You can text America and fellow volunteers for free. Blackberry’s have to have a monthly data fee here, so I’d recommend an iPhone, which many volunteers have. If you don’t want to do that, you can get internet phones here as well which is what I did. Works fine, you’ll just be jealous.

13. Don’t bring anything white. Most especially socks.

14. Bring a sleeping bag, and a tent if you have it. You get discounted rates at the backpackers (hostels) if you camp.

15. Bring a large hard drive with recent movies and tv shows on it as well as your most favorite movies. We have lots of stuff except the new things. We will hound you for new things when you get here and you can gete other movies and tv shows from us. Media exchange is huge when volunteers get together.

16. Bring some good knives or have them sent.

17. Bring lots of hand sanitizer.

Things About Swaziland:

18. We have good grocery stores. As well as decent clothing stores, electronics stores, and coffee shops. Not many, not great, but they are here.

19. We are a small country so you can get around relatively easily. You can see your friends, see the game parks. You won’t be alone for two years. Unless you want to, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

20. We have some Chinese and American restaurants and a few Indian. If you like other types of food, eat lots of it while you still can. As well as good pizza.

21. The beer’s not great but its okay, and you have to search and pay handsomely for a cocktail. Enjoy both while you can.

22. You won’t be able to Skype much. This isn’t Europe, our Internet café’s don’t have it and the Internet has its own set of issues anyway. Just FYI.

23. I think you are lucky to be posted in Swaziland.
a. You can see your friends if you want, as opposed to other places where if you’re on opposite sides of the country you won’t see them for 6 months.
b. We have good things in the towns, but the rural areas are what you think you will get in the Peace Corps, and you can get between each relatively easily.
c. We are bordered by South Africa and Mozambique, some of the best places for vacationing in Africa: the beaches of Moz and the cities of South Africa.

24. Be prepared for an awesome good time and an amazing experience.

If this triggered anything else you want to know, shoot me a comment or find me on Facebook!

If you aren't a new volunteer, I'm sorry this post wasn't interesting to you at all. I'll post a more relevant one soon!

Megan Key

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Vuyani, Fnana, and Siyabonga

They look cute, but bayaganga kakhulu!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Another Type of Countdown

Hello Hello!

Happy Pi Day everyone, and Happy early St Patty’s Day! We’re headed into town for a party on Saturday. Not sure what a St. Patrick’s Day party in Swaziland looks like, but I’m sure there are enough Irish expats and enough of us who just like to have a good time to make it a fun day! Ha.

Before I get any further, I want to give a special shout out to all the G10 invitees out there. It seems like just yesterday I was saying this about the G9 group coming, and about two days ago when I got my invitation! Now, I am leaving. My how time flies! And it really does, G10ers. It really does. Two years is daunting on paper but I guarantee you’ll be looking back soon wondering where your 25 months went. But before all that, before you leave, make sure to eat lots of food that’s not rice, beans, chicken, maize meal, cole slaw and beet roots. We’ve got loads of that here. Hug your friends and family lots and get ready to come have a great time in the Swaz! Your G9 friends are a blast and you’ll have fun with them as well as your fellow G10ers. And us old G8ers will be leaving the reins to you guys… but not before we have a good party for the 4th of July…

That being said… I PICKED MY DAY I’M LEAVING SWAZILAND!! Can you believe it?! I can’t. Absolutely cannot. It’s not 100% official, not until May 29 at COS Conference, but on August 1, 2012, I will be an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) and will be leaving Swaziland. In.Sane. That means July 30 will be my last day at my site, my last day with my host family, my last day in my wonderful community! Then it’s a few days in town of closing bank accounts, checking one last time for parasites, my ring out and, of course, one last blow out party at Bombaso’s. But its hard to be too sad when exciting travels and HOME await me after. We’re starting to make more travel plans… actually, not really. Let’s just say we have less crazy ideas but are no more closer to any sort of plan at all. Well, I guess we still have 4 months… eek!

Yes, 4 months. That’s it. And there’s a lot to do!

My project to put a garden at our Neighborhood Care Point for orphans was funded (yay!) so tomorrow we begin building the base to hold the tank to collect water. Two days ago I FINALLY got someone to commit to a gardening workshop after more than a few months of trying, so that’s a big relief. Now we just wait for the rain to come so we can plow the garden and put up the fence. Which is a little bit more than an issue because, well, its not rainy season anymore. I keep telling people we can’t wait until the rains come because I’m leaving in 4 months… here’s hoping it rains tomorrow.

Other than that, I’m working with the schools to get libraries up and running. Up at the Primary School and running at the High School. All with your help thank you! ; ) We are working with two US Embassy Grant Projects to get a library built at the Primary School, so thank you to all of you who pay taxes! And we are waiting for the books to come from America through our Books for Africa project that you all helped donate to! So Thank You America!

Today, we handed in our second proposal for the library at the Primary School at the US Embassy in Mbabane. It was the first time I had ever been to the Embassy, or an Embassy at all. We went through two metal detectors, had my bag searched twice, had to leave my phone and flash drive (?) at the front desk and had to take a sip of my water to show them it wasn’t, I don’t know, bomb fluid of some so? I also took the Head Teacher on her first elevator ride and made her push all the buttons – sustainability right? I didn’t get to go in the second coded entrance inside the office building (yeesh people you’re not THAT important!) but I we had our meeting and handed in our proposal. So think good thoughts! I also over heard one man discussing his visa with the visa officer. He was going to Iowa to help the Bishop of Iowa care for his parishes that needed the most help. There was a lot to think was weird about that conversation, like why he was going to Iowa, and why a man from Swaziland was going to Iowa to help their poor, but I kept my mouth shut. I should have warned him though that there is no lipalishi in Iowa and if you’re going until December, you better have a good coat. Hopefully the nice man behind the desk will tell him. They seemed to be having a good chat about hyphenating last names in this modern age. What brought that on is beyond me, but I guess the visa man behind the glass was lonely and looking for someone to talk to. I was also reminded about 50 times to register to vote in November. Considering there were only Swazis there, I thought those posters and the “CATCHING A TERRORIST IS DANGEROUS BUT IT HAS IT’S REWARDS” posters probably weren’t doing as much good as they would have, say in America, but at least I learned some things today.

Anyway, tomorrow is a full day at the school. The secretary is out for a month while she is getting an HIV/AIDS Counseling Certificate, so I told them I would step in for her every now and again. (As long as it doesn’t interfere with my St. Patty’s Day plans ; ) ) We are supposed to be getting some fruit trees from a local orphanage that has an orchard tomorrow. They will bring and plant them at the school. I hope to convince them to give us a few for our Care Point project so the children can have bananas and oranges… eventually.

Well that’s all I’ve got for now. Hope everyone is doing well and I’ll see you all in just 8 months! : )

Lots of love, Meg

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Winter is Coming

Winter is Coming… as the Starks of Winterfell say. ; )

But it is true, with the February drawing to a close, we all start to remember the bitter cold of winter that starts to appear in March. I’m starting to bring to boots out from under my bed and dust off that North Face fleece! I’m sure this is all old news to all of you and you’re excited for the heat of summer to return, but it’s hard for us all to remember that winter does come in Africa!

And with this winter comes the close of my service! Isn’t it crazy how fast two years flies! I have started selling things from my hut, and planning what will stay and what will go. I look around and am shocked at how much crap I have and how little I’ll be able to bring with me on my trip up the continent this August. Just enough for a backpack…

I’m also very excited that I found out my site will be replaced! That means that after I leave in the beginning of August, a new volunteer will be here at the end of August! My community is very excited, as is my counterpart. I must have done something right then, if they want another crazy American who eats weird things and walks too fast!

Although I can almost see the end of my service, it doesn’t mean that I’m done yet, by any sense. My gardening project for our orphan care point has been approved (finally!!). I will have the money in a few weeks and we will start buying fencing and gutters to get it all going! March 26 we will have a workshop for the caregivers at the care point on basic gardening techniques and on March 27 my counterpart and I will lead them in a basic Early Childhood Education and Psychosocial Support workshop. Bet you didn’t know I knew about all that did you? Turns out I don’t! But if there’s one thing I’ve learned here, its that you know more than you think you do, and the rest you can just fake! With a manual and a translator, there’s nothing I don’t know about! ; )

We’re also in the middle of two libraries at the moment… yes two! Our High School, thanks to all your generous donations and positive thoughts, is in the middle of the Books for Swaziland project. The librarian will attend a Librarian Training on March 1 to learn the ins and outs of a library, how to run it, how to make a check out system, etc. She is very excited and the school is excited for the books to come!

And finally, after a year and a half, we *hopefully* have found someone to build our Primary School a library of their own!! I have searched high and low for someone to build the structure, as infrastructure projects are a big no no for Peace Corps Volunteers here. Managing those projects and the money is a huge responsibility, pain and stress. Plus it is generally the sort of thing we avoid, “yes I have the money to build big buildings” and many times these projects fail for various reasons. So for these reasons we are encouraged to look elsewhere, be the link between the community and the organizations that do build buildings, taking us out of the money part and the managing part so we can focus on how to make this building sustainable and continue functioning long after we are gone. So, that has been my struggle, helping the school with applications and letters to various organizations, begging for help building a library. Finally, last week on a site visit from my boss, the Peace Corps Country Director, and a member of the Embassy, the Deputy Ambassador basically from what I understand, I was informed of State Department community outreach grants and encouraged to apply. What they didn’t tell me is that I needed to have it submitted in less than a week. Needless to say it was a crazy week, trying to get quotations for the building, making sure it fit in the grant’s budget, fitting it all around my prior obligations and then of course the storms knock the power out. But today, a few hours before the deadline, I submitted our request and got an immediate reply. Having dropped the name of the Embassy Official and his visit, as well as the fact that they seem to be trying to give this money away, I think there is a very good chance this will be a success!

This now means that we’ll need books for this new structure, if it comes to fruition. I am looking into some options for that and may be calling for help from you all back home once again, but if it doesn’t work out, with a new volunteer coming, I know this school will be able to participate in the Books for Swaziland project next year.

So with the care point garden, the two libraries, life skills classes and a possible HIV Support Group garden, these last 5 months are shaping up to be my busiest. That’s what everyone said, but you never do believe it until it happens. My biggest hurdle in all these projects now is time. It’s times like these when you really realize that two years is just simply not enough time. But don’t worry guys, I will come home. ; )

But with all these projects, it means there’s not a lot of time for the trips to town, which is fine. The work load ebbs and flows during your service, so sometimes you’re in town a lot because there isn’t much to do at site, and sometimes you’re the site rat who no one ever sees. I was able to sneak away for a few days for Valentine’s Day and my Birthday (thanks for all the birthday wishes and cards!). I hung out with Eric, ate pizza and saw a movie. It was nice to just have some normalcy again, pretending Spur was Applebee’s and the 4 theatre cinema was Willow Creek. But now it’s back to work for a while, which is good as well.

Anyway, I think that’s all for now. If anyone from the new group invitees (G10) is reading this, look forward to meeting you in a few months. Anyone remember when I got my invitation to Swaziland?? How long ago does that seem… and yet, not so long. Weird!

Love and miss you all!


PS: I tried to put some pictures up yesterday in town but Picasa was being slow and stupid. Maybe next time.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

This Is Gonna Take A While...

I’m back!

Sorry for the lack of updates. It’s been a busy holiday season and I’m just starting to get back in the goove. Turns out this is a long update, so grab a cup of coffee…

First of all, THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who contributed to our library project!! We are fully funded and will be getting books to schools in a few months! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

Christmas was good. We started it off with a great trip to Mozambique. It was a short trip, just a day in Maputo, half a day up to Tofo, two full days on the beach, and then a LONG day back down to Swaziland. We left Tofo at 4am after going to bed at 2am (what can I say?) and were on transport from then until we got out of the taxi in Mbabane at 8pm. My feet were so swollen, we smelled like sweat and fish, and we were tired. So we were all obviously a treat to be around, but after a shower and an actual meal, we were happy to be back.

A few days, literally just a few days, we were back living out of our backpacks for another week. We went camping at our favorite little tree house in the bush for the few days before Christmas. We found an awesome spot to swim with a small waterfall, small rapids to float down, and warm water. We spent most of the day there, which was fortunate as the next day it rained off an on. But we were all content to just hang out under the trees. We spent Christmas at the local backpackers, cooking a delicious Christmas dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and stuffing. All enjoyed pool side with the gorgeous African sunset in the mountains. It was a great Christmas.

I then rushed home to do some laundry before Sue and John came a few days later! It wasn’t quite successful because the one full day I had back at my site, it rained just as I got my clothes up on the line. Of course. But nothing could dampen my spirits on my way to go see Sue and John! Not even the honest to God, most crammed bus on the face of the Earth. We were stuffed three across… in the aisles of this bus. I had a baby in my face and someone’s boobs in my back. It was madness. But I finally got to Nhlangano and met Sue and John at the hotel. It was so exciting to see them!

We spent the next day at my site, walking around, seeing what there was to see. We even toured the local clinic for Nurse Susan and then trekked across the maize fields to see my host mother who was so busy weeding in the fields, she couldn’t come in for lunch.

The next day was New Year’s Eve and we spent it around Malkerns and the Ezulwini Valley, looking at the local craft shops and having beers, waiting for the party to start at House on Fire. We had a great New Year’s there, even if the party kept thumping in our ears long after we had gone to bed. We spent New Year’s Day at a braai at my friend Kerry’s house in Mankayane. Lots of volunteers and a few families came so it was a great group of people, meeting people’s families and having them meet mine!

Then it was time to head up to Kruger National Park in South Africa. We dropped off the rental car at the Nelspruit Airport and were picked up and driven to our hotel in the Krugz. But of course this is Africa and it couldn’t just be that simple. So driving down a mountain into down, we got a flat, and I mean flat, tire. Right on a bend in the road down the hill. It took a while to get fixed as we had to call in back up from town, but eventually we were up and moving again and on our way to Kruger. We pulled into this BEAUTIFUL resort in the middle of the game park and were welcomed royally… I mean, they called us by name! The whole time we were there! We freshened up a bit and had some lunch and before we knew it, it was time for our evening game drive. We had a morning drive and an evening drive each day, and on each one was saw something awesome. That first night, we saw a pride of lions that had been in a fight the night before. They had won and wanted us and everyone else to know that they had, so one would start roaring, then a few more joined in, then soon all 8 – 10 lions were roaring 5 feet from us! Then they’d fade out and roll over and go back to sleep, until someone decided it was time to start roaring again. Then they’d all start up again for a while… then flop back down and go to sleep. It was hilarious. The next morning we were out, driving along, and Susan spotted a leopard! So we went off-roading to find it. We were coming up on the leopard when all of a sudden she lunged at our tracker who was sitting on the hood of the car. He quickly scrambled up the hood and, for some reason, politely asked our ranger “Can I come in the car?” Um YES! Apparently the leopard had cubs we hadn’t seen and was obviously very upset as we came closer. So she sulked off into the bushes around us and we decided to get out of there. So we try to make a path through this high grass, not noticing that there are lots of ravines in this area, so we promptly roll over one, and who knows what we hit, but all of a sudden we hear a pop and rushing air. Our second flat tire in two days, and this one in an even more dangerous spot than our last… with an angry mama leopard stalking us in the bushes. So somehow we manage to get back onto the road and up a little bit (but not very far) before we stop to change the tire. So our tracker changes the tire, while our ranger stands guard with the rifle and Sue, John and I keep an eye on the bushes. It was intense! That afternoon we went on a walk down by the river to check out the hippos. Susan was talking about our long pole, but I knew even that wouldn’t make Mom go on that walk. That night, we happened upon a whole herd of elephants. We sat watching them come up to a water hole and mosey on. Before we knew it, the elephants were trouncing down the road towards us, so we started to back up and get out of their way, when we realized there were elephants behind us. Um, we were surrounded by elephants. So we kind of pulled of to the side a bit and let the elephants go around us. The adults just sauntered by, literally 5 feet from us, and the baby elephants kind of scurried by, it was so cute. The next morning we saw a leopard that had just killed an impala. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the kill actually happen, but I can only imagine how rare of a sight that actually is. The leopard (Scotia was her name, like Nova Scotia) had killed an impala and dragged it to a bush to hide it, while she rested. That night we went to check out if she had pulled it up a tree. We found her again, with a large belly, panting heavily in a tree, very clearly full and content, but no impala. Either she hid it really well, or more likely, it was stolen by hyenas. That evening we also followed a giraffe on foot and found out she had a baby. It was awesome. The next morning we found a pride of lions stalking some buffalo, and waited a while with them to see if they would do anything, but it was getting hot so the lions settled down for the day and we decided to move on. And we topped it all off that night with lions mating. Did you know lions mate 50 times a day for like 5 days straight?? Yeah. That was the talk of the camp that night. We saw all kinds of cool random things too, like a fluorescent scorpion, and all kinds of sweet birds making random noises. We had awesome dinners of Nyala (delicious!), springbok, crocodile, and impala, as well as other, more normal things too. We ate in a Boma setting one night, a kraal for those of us in the Swaz, and outside bbq is the best way to describe it for the rest of you. And one day was out in the bush, which was awesome. They had brought out a full bar and the full buffet meal out to the middle of the park. We asked what made us safe there and our ranger, Brandon, said “we’re not.” Um, okay… It was a wonderful time at Lion Sands and we were sad to leave, but it was time to move on… to Cape Town!!

We flew from Nelspruit to Cape Town, my first plane ride since I landed in the Swaz a year and a half ago. I was excited, that only being one of the reasons. We stayed at this funky place in the city with odd gothic slash chic, modern glamour décor. It was cool and weird at the same time. UJ loved the music. ; ) We spent the first night out at the Waterfront having some good ole Cape Town wine and delicious food. It was lovely.

The next day we rented a car and drove down the peninsula. All the way down to the point are cute little towns like Kalk Bay and Simonstown, right on the water, up against the mountains. We stopped in Simonstown and said hello to the penguins, then went down to the point and walked around down there. We went to the old lighthouse that used to be lit by like a bajillion candles until they realized it was too high up to do any good. We walked down to the point, or as close as we could get, and were officially at the most southwesterly point in Africa. The most South I think any of us had ever been. We then drove over to the Cape of Good Hope where UJ almost hit an ostrich and Susan died in the backseat. I obviously was the only one who held my cool, except for a few swear words I won’t ever repeat again, I promise.

After a day of walking around, I promptly grabbed the Nuvi on our way out of the park and plugged in the nearest McDonald’s. I told Sue and John when they first got here that there were no ifs ands or buts about it, we were going at least once. And we were all happy for a little Mickey D’s for our drive home.

The next day we cable car’d it up to the top of Table Mountain. Just in time too, because we saw the clouds starting to form when we were up there and when we got down and back to the Waterfront, the clouds were rolling over and down the mountain. They call it “the table cloth.” It was amazing. We spent our last evening on Long Street, my old stomping grounds. We left the next morning and flew back to Joburg where we parted ways and I went to the hotel and Sue and John began their journey back to the US.

I spent the night in the hotel, but not before exploring the Emperor’s Palace grounds and getting some Nando’s to ease my way back into my more normal eating routine, starting with a nicer fast food restaurant. I got KFC the next day in the Swaz, and then a take away dinner the next, before it was back to rice and beans at site. But that wasn’t before the adventure back to the Swaz.

I stayed at a pretty nice hotel by the airport that night and was on my own to get back, not a problem, just had to ask directions. So I go to the front desk the next morning and ask them how to get to Park Station in downtown Joburg, where I get my khumbi to Swaziland. The guy told me to take a taxi down there and it’ll wait for me and bring me back. I was like… um let’s try this again, I’m not coming back first of all, and second of all, I know we’re a good ways outside of the city, I’m sure as heck not taking a metered taxi into town. I knew there was a train at the airport and a free shuttle there, so if worse came to worse I could do that. So I asked the nice man where I could catch the public transport into Joburg and he gave me this look like I was nuts. “Um, I wouldn’t recommend that for you,” he said. “Why?” I asked. “Because you don’t know where you’re going.” Please dude, I don’t know where I’m going half the time I’m in Swaziland, and its called survival there. So I assured him I’d be fine and he told me where to catch the taxis, confusing yes, but this time I knew he was talking about my kind of taxis, not the actual taxis. I came back to check out and he said “so you’re really going?” I was like uh yeah, he said “I can see your confidence so I know you’ll get there.” So did I. I’m fairly confident I’m the only guest (definitely white guest) to leave that place on public transport. I felt proud. So I walked out of the parking lot, walked through the car exit and out to the road where I walked right up to a khumbi. Turns out I had to go to Kempton Park to catch another one, not a problem, the driver was very nice, but it would have been nice to know from the other guy, cuz the driver asked “Kempton park?” and I said “No, Joburg!” and he looked at me like you’re an idiot. But I get that look a lot so I don’t mind anymore. So I hopped off one khumbi and onto the next to Joburg, where they do things a little differently than in Swaziland so it was a lot of just going with it. First of all, in Swaziland, each khumbi has a conductor who collects money and if you don’t know where you’re going, he’s the guy to ask. In South Africa, they don’t have conductors, someone in your row collects the money and passes it up to the passenger in the front seat who collects it. Also, no one to ask how to get to Park Station. No problem, I’ve been there before. So I’m passing familiar things in Joburg, happy I’m at least on the right khumbi, and people are jumping out right and left and we stop and I see a bright yellow, brand new sign around a parking structure like the one I need to be on that says “Park Central.” Lots of people get off, so I’m like “Yeah! This is it!” I walk up to it and quickly realize I was wrong, but Joburg is not the place you want people to realize you don’t know where you’re going. So I strut up to the nearest police officer (always a 50/50 on if they’re the safest person to ask when you’re in Africa) and ask where I can catch the khumbi to Swaziland, incase this was actually the place. He says, Park Station, a 10 to 30 minute walk from here. Crap. But I got directions and strutted my way down the streets of Joburg and, well 3 blocks, literally 2 minutes later I got to a place I ACTUALLY recognized as Park Station walked right up to my khumbi, sat down and felt immediately relieved and proud. I got from some random hotel outside Johannesburg to a whole other country, all by myself! I knew I could, but its definitely a relief to have behind you.

I spent the next few days in town saying goodbye to my dear friend Jess who was heading back to America in a few days. Jess, if you happen to read this, we miss you like crazy and hope you’re enjoying the land of the plenty!

But I’m back hut-side now, back to the frustrations I was so happy to get away from on vacation, but all in all, happy to be back in my normal routine. I’ve spent the past week trying to see head teachers at the schools, getting library stuff and teaching stuff figured out. Well for some reason, they haven’t been there, just a few days before schools open. Why weren’t they there? Who knows. But at least its good exercise, walking there and back.

We weathered quite the storm the other day. Tropical Cyclone Dando absolutely wrecked our neighbors to the northeast and since Mozambique, specifically Maputo and south of that (literally miles from our own borders). So obviously we got quite a bit of flooding and hurricane-like weather at the beginning of the week. I’m in the exact opposite side of the country, so while we had crazy weather, it wasn’t much different. But those that are closer to the coast got some bad flooding. All I can say is I’m glad I picked this week to stay put. Transport must be awful.

But the sun is shining again and things are rolling again. That’s all I’ve got I think… finally! Thanks for stickin with this update! I promise I will try to be better with the updates. Hopefully.

But for now, I hope everyone is staying warm, as I understand winter has finally come to the US. I hope the next winter is as mild as the one apparently has been, I’ll need an adjustment period. ; )

Love you all, miss you lots!!