Sunday, September 25, 2011


Occasionally I thought of hosting an “American” evening for our Swazi friends but, of course, it never happened because the resources (good meat, familiar dishes, condiments, sauces) were not available. In many respects, we were fish out of water, so we did our best at “learning to swim in Swaziland”. Arriving home, we were eager to tell of our adventures, but usually found our audience had a very short attention span when the subject was ‘eSwati’. Now, after a month back home, we are experiencing reverse culture awareness. Here are a few examples:

We can hear and we understand the spoken language. Early after our return, we had lunch at a Mexican restaurant and the waitress greeted us with, “Hola!” We were both speechless for a moment searching for the proper response, trying to avoid either ‘hello’ or ‘sawubona’. We have found that we do miss the friendly, smiling greeting of the Swazi. When we start a conversation with servers, with ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’, expecting a response elicits odd looks from them.

Things are simply ‘not quite right’. The seasons are reversed again and the sun has found its rightful course skirting the southern sky.

After first setting foot in America, I was impressed with the use of mirrors. Frequently, I can see my whole body reflected, rather than just my chin.

Shopping is over the top. Leaving a hard-found, little display of greeting cards in SD, we found a 75-foot aisle, brightly lighted, with cards on both sides in our local Safeway; the produce section is a gigantic work of art; and the selections are mind boggling. No Swazi could comprehend two adjacent shops, one specializing in black and white, the other in ‘just pink’. Getting all the ‘plastic’ back has been an experience; the Costco card, the Safeway card, the QFC card, the…… and then trying to remember how to use them is a challenge.

At home, we marvel at the washer/dryer, the dishwasher, and the microwave, each of them saving us hours. We now take for granted, hot, running water.

We’re still adjusting to the traffic, and we’ve noticed all those ‘senior citizens’ out and about. And one last thing; sorry, but the American is certainly a sloppy dresser

Highlights of our first year in Siteki
• Successful “nesting,” turning our apartment into home
• Becoming friends with the Swazi’s that we work with on a frequent basis
• Being accepted in our work place
• The library and map project at the school
• Providing a safe haven for other PCVs who need some “posh corps” time.
• Christmas giving/party at the Neighborhood Care Points
• Acceptance and love from the kids at the school, many of them becoming well known personalities to us
• Vacations in Cape Town and St. Lucia
• Ability to volunteer without being proficient in SiSwati
• Learning sign language
• SKYPING with loved ones at home, seeing Evelyn within 14 hours of her birth.
• Opportunity to learn a new culture and see our own culture from a different perspective
• Sharing our adventure with one another… and with our blog readers.

“ Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” Dr. Seuss

Before, after, and detail pictures of "the Map Project".

(Double click to enlarge.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Debbie wanted to be home by Aug 24 to prepare for Evelyn’s baptism on Aug 28. Initially, we planned to tell PC of our plans to ET on Aug 22, but we didn’t feel comfortable cutting it so close. In stages, the date was pushed back to the 15th, a Monday; then realizing that the 72 hour countdown was more effective over a weekend, she decided to make her call on Friday, Aug 12. Not knowing when the clock would begin ticking, she called late afternoon on Thursday, hoping to fly out on Monday.

Our driver promptly picked us up at 10 Friday morning, whisked us to Mbabane where we were given a fistful of paperwork to be completed, we saw our PCMO for a while and were taken to a dentist’s office for a complete checkup and then overnighted at a backpacker. We were able to complete an interview and do our homework and finalize banking (ridiculous red tape—Swazi style) over the weekend and even took the time to visit Swazi friends (Tim and Gloria) in their home. Monday, we ran the checklist including exit interviews and returning materials, then tripped over the only glitch in the process: Gary had to be driven all the way back to Siteki (in the rain) to close the account with the electric company (getting a signature) and return to Mbabane. Otherwise, everything was efficiently organized; the 72 hour countdown seems designed to accommodate the deposit of three poops.

Monday, we learned that Libby would be replacing us at the School for the Deaf and enjoyed a pleasant evening visiting with her.

Tuesday, we were driven to the airport with the load of baggage we brought fourteen months ago, gifts for America replacing items left in Swaziland for various reasons. While waiting in the lounge area, we observed the royal jet and surrounding area being secured and prepared for the presence of his royal highness. But after a circuit of the red carpet, he boarded his jet without even acknowledging us.

The flight to Jo-burg is 50 minutes; we had about five hours layover to eat, shop, exchange funds (only after securing a boarding pass) and go through security three times (and a fourth for me—penalty for looking shifty); the flight to Atlanta was fifteen hours, thirty-five minutes, but not too bad because we had bulkhead seats. We got to Atlanta at sunup and spent our first US$ at a Dunkin’Donut. After almost four hours on the ground (including customs), we flew five hours across the continent through cloudless skies to SeaTac where we were greeted by three of our kids and our newest granddaughter. It has been a whirlwind of activity ever since.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What I learned in Africa

This blog is being written by guest writer, Debbie, and is an attempt to explain why we are returning to the states before we have completed our two years of service. I am writing it because it is upon my request that we leave the PC after 14 months of volunteering.
So what have I learned in Africa?
1. The problems in Africa are multi-faceted and extremely complex. Now that I have experienced Africa it seems somewhat arrogant that I thought I could make a real difference, particularly with few resources. The easy stuff, the Swazis can do for themselves. Perhaps I picked the wrong organization to affiliate with given my personality and need “to do” something specific and concrete. Realistically, my help with quality improvement at the hospital, particularly the western model being pushed on the Swazis by the Government of Swaziland, is not very relevant. I have struggled with the enormity of the issues at the hospital and my inadequacy to provide meaningful solutions. What they need is a proper building, equipment, trained staff, ventilation in the TB wards, etc. The PC would not allow me to provide direct patient care as it is not “sustainable”. For reasons that I don’t understand myself, I have been unable to put aside the enormous sadness that I see in the hospital and be content with few, tiny successes.
2. I don’t believe the opportunity cost of being away from children, grand-children, family and friends is offset by what I can accomplish in Swaziland in another year. In this first year Chris has dealt with the fog of Alzheimer’s, Zoe changed from a toddler to a little girl, Rudy grew from a pre-schooler to a scholar (Lego engineer), Evelyn was born, and Leonard turned 80. Whatever next year will bring, I want to personally live the experience. We are also aware that nothing is guaranteed in life. We would like to think that we have many, many years to enjoy family, volunteer and travel, but if in fact our time is short, we want to spend it with the people that are dearest to us. I would like to think that I always knew the value of family and friends, but there is nothing like time away to make it very real.
3. I can volunteer in the states and at the same time experience my family and friends; a win/win. It may not be as dramatic but can be as helpful and rewarding. My experience in Africa has changed my priorities. AIDS in Africa and women’s inequality will be two areas that I will explore for volunteer opportunities. I am grateful to my African experience for helping me understand these issues better. It is my hope that I can provide more value to Swaziland from the states than I could “on the ground.”
I am very grateful for this last year. I have learned things I like about myself (I can adjust to a different culture and experience) and that I don’t like about myself (big problems that I have little control over paralyze me). I have learned things I like about Swaziland (the people, Swazi smiles, beautiful country) and I don’t like about Swaziland (corrupt government, ticks, “Africa time”). The School for the Deaf has been a great place to live with amenities few PCVs have, including the positive experience of having children all around us. Gary has received a lot of satisfaction being the school librarian, learning sign language (mostly from the kids), a map project, and working with the children on a one to one basis. I am grateful for being welcomed and becoming friends with the locals and being accepted as friends by fellow, much younger, PC volunteers. I am grateful for all the love and support from family and friends back in the states (great packages too!) that made this past year possible. Mostly I am grateful for my husband, who shared this experience with me and even though he can stay in Swaziland to finish his service, has chosen to return to the states with me. It has been one hell of an adventure!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Debbie’s Shopping Day In Siteki

Any trip to town here takes careful planning. So I start my day with a hot cup of tea and make a list of what I need that I can carry back home in a backpack plus a bag on each arm. I also want to plan my route so I am taking the shortest trip back with said groceries. So off I go to the electricity store first as it is the farthest away and my hands are empty. I get there and they can’t take my money because the electricity has gone out and the computer will not work—at the electricity store (note the irony here). Okay, next stop is the gas station on the other side of town to get some cash from the one ATM in Siteki that will take the PC debit card. The ATM gives me Emalangeni. I don’t want Emalangeni; the country is falling apart and there is talk about “de-coupling” the South African Rand from the Swaziland Emalangeni. For a year this machine has given out Rands as we live so close to the border. Okay, I will use this money first and keep what Rands I do have. On to the liquor store to get a wine that Gary asked me to purchase for company tomorrow. Out of stock. I call Gary to find out what he wants to substitute. The call will not go through and my cell phone tells me the call is “out of range.” The school is less than a 30 minute walk from where I am standing. Okay, I do my best and move on to the grocery store. I really want three things, lettuce, eggplant and chicken. You guessed it, they have none of these, unless you count the chicken that comes cut up into un-identifiable pieces and often has feathers stuck on it. Okay, I will cook something else and when I leave ShopRite I go behind the bus rank and buy lettuce from the Make vegetable market. I tried to buy eggplant, too, but couldn’t remember the Swazi name for eggplant. I gave up after seeing none and neither pantomime nor English worked. We got close as they wanted to sell me a butternut squash. I go back home the long way, with groceries, and I am in luck as the electricity company now has a working computer. I take this all in stride as it is the norm here. Flexibility has become my middle name. Did you ever believe you would see the day?

Sunday, July 31, 2011


We begin our tour in Mbabane with a view from the U.S. Ambassador's front porch. (Gloria's is about three blocks away.) 57% of the wealth of the nation is held by the richest 20% of the population (perhaps most of them named Dlamini). The king has personal wealth of about US$200 million and I recently heard (unsubstantiated) that tibiyo (the wealth of the kingdom from colonial days) is nearly E70 billion. The king controls tibiyo. Corruption drains away E80 million each and every month. The poorest 20% has 4% of the nations wealth.
Siteki is perhaps rather unusual because it is the administrative center for the Lubombo region so there is much government housing such as this. Minor officials and civil servants live in government housing; also teachers, but not as grand as this. We go by here every time we go into town. Siteki is now dark because the city couldn't afford to pay the electric bill for street lights.

A photo of our next door neighbors taken from our front door. Only 3% of the total population is over 65. The life span is shorter than 32 years.
Another example of the financial crisis here; the FDMA (an agency equivalent to the US FEMA) had a budget of E55 million two years ago; this year the budget is E14 million but they aren't sure they will be able to support that.

A homestead in the fertile Mahamba valley. 76% of the population is rural, 24% urban.

This is a homestead south of us in the Shizelweni region. An extended family will live here; rondavels for sleeping, a common 'kitchen'. 47% of the nation exhibit clinical malnutrition.

A stick and wattle in the lowveld. 70% of Swazis are subsistance farmers; 70% live below the poverty level.

A homestead in the lowveld. The traditional rondavel and updated block hut.

Traditional style, with thatched roof, but modernized by using 'concrete' block (which crumbles like sand), a beautiful front door (a door!), and note the satellite dish.

Gogo in front of her stick & wattle on Hannah's homestead.

This is Hannah's homestead--her rondavel is on the right without water or electricity. Do you understand why a visit to our palace is worth the trip in a khumbi?

Each of the king's 13 wives has her own palace as does the widows of Siphuza II, all widely scattered around the kingdom, and all enjoy amenities such as chauffeured cars and expense accounts--at public expense.

Inside our palace on a Friday night.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

from the July 30 The Economist

..THE government has run out of cash, and no one seems willing to lend it any without radical reforms which Mswati III, Swaziland’s king, seems loth even to consider. But the pressure is mounting. Civil servants, faced with wage cuts of 10%, are threatening to strike. Schools, deprived of state subsidies, may have to close. In a country with the world’s highest incidence of HIV/AIDS, clinics are running out of antiretroviral drugs for want of funds. Government suppliers, owed millions of dollars in arrears, have begun to demand cash on delivery, which the government cannot produce. The 43-year-old king has even cancelled this year’s celebrations to mark his 25 years on the throne.

This is the worst crisis that little Swaziland, locked into the north-east corner of South Africa, has suffered since independence from Britain in 1968. Most of its revenue comes from a regional customs union dominated by South Africa. But last year, thanks to an economic slowdown, this income, really a disguised subsidy, fell by almost two-thirds. As government spending usually accounts for nearly half of Swaziland’s GDP, this has clobbered the economy. Thousands of businesses went bust as the government slashed spending. Unemployment rose sharply, with some 40% of working-age people already without jobs. Of Swaziland’s 1.2m people, nearly three-quarters live on less than $2 a day.

Earlier this year the World Bank offered to help bail the country out—on condition of certain reforms. The government agreed to halve its budget deficit with tax rises and austerity measures, including public-sector job losses. As it has met almost none of these conditions, international loans have been withheld. Because it is not a democracy, Swaziland fails to qualify for budget aid from donors such as the European Union. So the king has had to go cap in hand to his rich neighbour, South Africa.

As a Zulu traditionalist and polygamist like the king, President Jacob Zuma might have been willing quietly to oblige. Moreover, he is formally engaged to one of Mswati’s nieces. But the pro-democracy uprising in the Arab world has increased the pressure on Mr Zuma, at home and abroad, to treat despots in his own part of the globe more sternly.

His own political future may even depend on it. In the run-up to next year’s conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), held every five years, when all the party’s leaders come up for re-election, he is anxious to keep on side such powerful critics as the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the ANC Youth League, both of which strongly support Swaziland’s pro-democracy movement.

Swazi opposition leaders, who see the economic crisis as a blessing in disguise, have begged Mr Zuma not to hand their embattled monarch any cash unless he promises sweeping democratic as well as fiscal reforms. At a meeting with the king in mid-July, he is understood to have laid down some minimal conditions, including a modicum of political reforms, in return for the $220m-300m Swaziland is believed to have requested. With his back to the wall, the king is pondering his options.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Last weekend we visited Fred and Florence. Any trip from here begins with a ride to Manzini and a transfer. That first leg might take 50 to 100 minutes. There frequently is a police stop for a passenger count or, one time, we pulled into a service station and waited for the requisite greetings etc before both the driver and conductor got out to add a couple quarts of oil to the engine. This trip, the conductor dived to the floor so he couldn’t be seen from outside but we were stopped and the driver was ticketed for too many passengers.

Arriving in Manzini, we extracted ourselves to make the transfer. As many times as we’ve done this, we still need to ask how to find our next ride in the hundreds of khumbies and buses all jammed together. Khumbies and buses are as compacted as the passengers within them. Finding our next ride requires us to walk through shouting and whistling conductors, and drivers banging out non-rhythmic tattoos on their loud horns. If I’m on my way to Mbabane, never once have I been persuaded to go to Piggs Peak by a conductor shouting, “S’Piggee, S’Piggee, S’Piggee” in my ear, nor does a loud horn entice me to ride a particular bus. Once we get in our next vehicle we wait for it to fill up, counting our blessings if the driver is away so the loud ‘music’ doesn’t rip our ear drums. If the driver is present, we will occasionally find ourselves inching forward bit by bit up to a meter when we’ll reverse to our origin, then repeat this move several times. When finally packed, the driver will slowly insert us into the stream toward the exit, pedestrians and vendors filling the voids around us like a Schleeren photo. Even in motion, vendors and passengers will be hopping on or off.
Manzini to Nhlangano is about a 90 minute ride with beautiful mountain scenery. We sat right behind the driver so could see the speedometer registering 130 in a 60 kph zone. I also noted the fuel gage never left the Full mark from start to finish. I sat next to and took control of a window. One of our earliest khumbie experiences, Debbie opened a window by pushing it back. It was immediately and forcefully closed from behind! Swazis don’t like open windows, even when stifling.
We had lunch at KFC in Nhlangano and found a khumbie to Mahamba Valley and Fred and Florence. No back and forth motion here; the driver inches his way to the exit covering about 20 meters in 40 minutes. There is no conductor in this rural area and our top speed maybe was 40 kph.
F & F live in a palace also, but without running water—but with an indoor fireplace which was very welcome in the winter evenings. Picture a blazing fire, honey wine from our trip to Cape Town and great conversation with friends. We spent three nights with them. One day we had a braai at the The Gorge with other PCVs and Canadian NGOs and the other day we visited Piet Retief, in South Africa. Crossing the border, you present your passport to a clerk who looks you up on a computer and eventually stamps your passport; then you go to another window where a clerk reads your passport and gives you a slip of paper with some scratches on it; then you take your slip across the street to hand to a clerk who points the way to cross into South Africa. Once on S.Af. soil, you repeat this whole process. For our ride to Piet Retief, we filled a khumbie, then the conductor had two more passengers sit on stools in the door-well before we left (without the conductor). Ten minutes down the road, we were pulled over, the police did a head count, the driver was taken back into the police car for twenty minutes, and then we were on our way—the driver grasping a sheaf of papers as he drove. After a day in Piet Retief, we met a local umlungu, a total stranger, who offered us a ride to the border in her spacious suburban—a ride of nearly 30 minutes. She was most pleasant and wouldn’t take any payment for petrol. We were amazed with her hospitable kindness. This strikes a contrast to a couple of taxi drivers we encountered on our earlier trips to S.A. Both of them reacted similarly when we introduced ourselves as being with the Peace Corps; “You mean the United States supports something to do with peace?” And closer to home, we’ve been identified as Americans, the ‘war mongers’. Peace.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


So how many Swazi restaurants do you have in Seattle?

During another sleepless night, I had a revelation which will change my future. When we return to America, I will open a Swazi restaurant which will serve the masses of Swazi tourists visiting Seattle and reveal to Seattleites the hidden epicurean delights found in a Swazi diet.

All I’ll need is to find an empty storefront; perhaps a closed tv repair shop or an abandoned laundromat, or maybe a defunct service station on the edge of town. I’ll need a patch of dirt for the chickens to scratch in, and a few goats to one side would be a nice publicity gimmick. I’ll put a sign in the window saying “Swazi Food”, or if I can find a larger piece of cardboard, “Gary’s Swazi Food” in my best printing using ballpoint. For authenticity, it should read “Siyabonga Ngwane Kudla”. (I learned that in the Peace Corps.)
The menu will center around pap. Swazis love their pap and samp. The beauty of finding the service station is that maybe there would be an old 55 gallon drum I could use to make the pap in. Throw in a bunch of mealie meal (maize), add a little water and salt, and boil; this is called liphalishi. This has the appearance, consistency, and taste of concrete. Throw in a little more water and allow it to steam and you have your pap or porridge. Throw in even more water, stir out the lumps, and it’s called indengane. There are variations to these involving fermentation; maybe I’d need a liquor license. Beside pap, I’d need ligusha which is slimy vegetable, and, of course, rice. The meat offering (inyama) is simple: See ‘chicken’ (tinkhukhu) above. And here is my money maker: The pieces of beef could be purchased for next to nothing because they’re unrecognizable and parts that nobody else would buy. You Seattle granolas need some gristle and bone chips in your diet. For drinks, offer all Coke products (they include Swazi sugar), Fanta orange, Crème soda, and granadilla. I’d introduce root beer, but then we’d lack authenticity for there is no root beer in Swaziland. Generally, desserts are not found in Swaziland but (for a price) we could serve wonderful, fresh mangoes picked off the trees and sent directly to us. They’re the best in the world.

The décor will be simple: A low ceiling and shiny painted surfaces in order to reflect the amplified sounds of the Swazi ‘music’. And maybe we could create a festive atmosphere by dressing the waitresses in Reed Dance costumes. …or maybe not.

These are just a few of my early thoughts and revelatory ideas. I’m sure you can sense my excitement and if any of you would like to join in this venture or at least share your thoughts, just leave your comment below.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


We thought you might be interested in Gary’s submission to the Peace Corps Newsletter. Because he is the oldest volunteer in the country, they asked him to impart his wisdom with a monthly submission. This is a first attempt at poetry. “OVC” is orphaned and vulnerable children.

There was an old lady who lived in a shoe;
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.
Why so many children? I hear some of you cry.
“’Cause this is Swaziland” is her curt reply.
“We’re known as the ‘family OVC’;
Our other initials are HIV, some of us positive, some of us not.
We cling together ‘cause we’re all that we’ve got.
Does the king know we’re here? Apparently not,
So we cling together; we’re all that we’ve got.
I’ve asked GoGo Hlubard to go to her cupboard to see what she could spare,
But when she got there, the cupboard was bare; it seems no-one cares.
Does the king know we’re here? Apparently not
So we cling to each other ‘cause we’re all that we’ve got.
I appealed to our local NGO. They’d like to help, they want me to know.
They’re looking for funds to spread around; I just hope they reach us before we’re aground.
I’ve met with my friendly PCV; she teaches sustainability;
And with quite a bit of audacity, she’s helping me build capacity.
But does the king know we’re here? Probably not.
So we’ll cling to each other ‘cause we’re all that we’ve got.”
So why does an old woman live in a shoe?
Because she has so many children she doesn’t know what else to do.

And last but not least, an update on the financial crisis of Swaziland as being experienced by Good Shepherd Hospital. The government has not paid salaries for any of the hospital staff since the end of March. The hospital has gotten a loan to pay salaries for the last three months, but the bank, not surprisingly, has indicated that they will not give them a further loan. Suppliers are not being paid so naturally the hospital is running out of supplies. For example, there are no “sharp” containers for contaminated needles; I expect drugs will soon become an issue. The staff, all but physicians, struck last month when salaries were a week late. No one knows how salaries will be paid the 25th of July and the staff has indicated they will strike again if not paid on time. Patients were taken care of by senior staff and student nurses during the strike. I plan to help out if the nurses strike again as I shouldn’t be battling any ticks. A physician from Zimbabwe told me that this scenario is a repeat of what happened to her country in 2006-07, except Swaziland is less resilient because of the higher percentage of poor. South Africa may give Swaziland a loan, with many strings attached, as they don’t want a repeat of the Zimbabwe experience that caused a huge surge of refugees into their country. Needless to say, staff is already leaving for jobs in surrounding countries. Interesting times to be living through!

And now a brief word about the school (from Gary). Three of my teaching acquaintances have told me that they are considering leaving the country for jobs where they are sure to be paid. They've jokingly told me I might be the last one standing on campus. If government announces tomorrow that the 10% pay cuts are in effect, teachers will go on strike immediately. If the announcement is not made, a strike is scheduled for July 27 and will be in effect until there is a change in government. And one of them told me the rumor that the king has purchased an island in the South Pacific. Interesting times, indeed.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Last Sunday, Debbie snuck out of Mbabane while our PCMO was preoccupied with incoming Group 9. She finished her regimen of meds by midweek and has been improving each day and reported this morning that she awoke for the first time in weeks without headache. It has been a memorable week in other ways, too:

Monday was Independence Day and we had planned on being down in Nhlangano visiting Fred and Florence, meeting Group 9, saying good-bye to Group 7, and celebrating with all. But Debbie was recuperating and in no condition to travel so it was a day as usual for me. I celebrated by wearing my 'Uncle Sam' hat but conceded that to my library counterpart and forced her to explain the occasion to staff meeting. She ended up wearing it all day. Notice her coat--it was the coldest day we've known yet in Siteki.

The world map is finished. I will paint a frame around it and I'll show you the whole wall when the Swaziland map is also finished. It's a fun project, but I'm happy to report to you that my Very Important Work this week also focused on a resolution to the pit latrine project (if all goes well) and I was also instrumental in finding hearing testing for a group of kids who could matriculate here. Undoubtedly, far more important than pasting slips of paper into the backs of library books. But wait, there's more:

This is Lwelwing who came dancing into the library (in bare feet) obviously in good, high spirits. She passed me a note that said she was celebrating her tenth birthday and I spontaneously gave her a hug. And I got the sweetest and warmest hug in return. It was a 'Kodak moment'.

This is Siphesihle who came into the library with a laceration to the back of her head oozing blood. As usual, there were no other adults around, and the kids are deaf. I was able to stop the bleeding but there was no way for me to apply a bandage. She is a good artist and one of my cuties. Check out those blue eyes. The day before, I was in the same situation when "Gimpy" had a siezure. Luckily, a teacher came along and I was able to get word to his housemother. And you thought the life of a librarian was all calm and quiet.

Winter has come. These two girls (pictured from our kitchen window) are gathering firewood, probably to cook over, or if industrious, to sell for profit. We are sleeping under two blankets and were reminded of many Swazis who are sleeping on grass mats with no blankets to cover them. We're looking into remedying this in some small way. On my trips into town recently, I've been approached more frequently by kids asking for handouts. Although winter is here, the lettuce and cabbage in the garden behind us are growing noticeably taller each day and the days are getting longer. To complete the week, Dr Danny (who hails from the U.K.) came to visit us yesterday and we spent the whole afternoon together. He's also from the younger generation, but seemed to enjoy himself so much with the old folks that he invited himself back to visit another time.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Why are we afraid of snakes?

Snakes are nothing; they tend to be more afraid of us than we are of them and slither off into the grass. Now ticks and mosquitoes, they seek you out to suck your blood. I have a new respect for these vectors. The advantages of doing battle with a tick have been an ability to have a different insight into healthcare delivery in Swaziland, lots of time to read, and being pampered at Gloria’s B&B. The disadvantages have been a never-ending headache, extreme fatigue and a longing for the efficiency and effectiveness of American Healthcare.

To those prone to worry--never fear; if I had been acutely ill, I would have been whisked to Pretoria, South Africa and received 21st Century healthcare immediately. I was not acutely ill but neither did I have the classic tick fever characteristics (except for the bite), so I ended up in 1990 Healthcare. Previous blogs have described the 1940’s healthcare provided at the local regional hospital, that is, inadequate staff, dark, poorly ventilated wards, peeling paint and few supplies. Imagine my surprise when I was taken to Mbabane private clinic and stepped into the 1990’s. Clean white walls, private exam rooms, call bells, side rails that worked and even a digital BP machine. The physician was so/so. He did lab work that showed I was in perfect health but had no idea why I was sick. Swaziland tends to attract 3 types of physicians; the marginal, the altruistic, and a combination of the two.

Okay, so let’s leap to the 21st Century. History and lab work are sent to a tropical disease specialist in Washington, D.C. and a neurologist in South Africa. A trip to Pretoria is scheduled for specialty consults, head CAT scan and a lumbar puncture (no way!). Sound like 21st Century? Saved, just as we were to hit the road, by a rickettsia test that finally came back (took many days as it had to go to SA). I managed to get bit by a particularly nasty tick. Washington and SA consult again and decide that I have been undertreated. I get better on longer treatment and come home to a husband that has had enough of being a bachelor in Africa.

So what three things did I learn from this experience? Dummy, wear long pants and insect repellant when walking in rural Swaziland! Number two, the gulf between healthcare provided to the majority of Swazis and those that have money is as big as an ocean, or at least 50 years of medical improvements. And perhaps most important, I have come to believe that decent, available healthcare for the majority of the population must be a top priority for any country that wants to develop and prosper. Tick fever is endemic to Swaziland but most don’t get treated and so deal with the sequelae of chronic fatigue and joint pain. Of course, Tick fever is nothing compared to AIDS, TB, Malaria, water-borne diseases etc, etc. How can a country prosper if people are too sick to be productive or educate themselves?

Friday, July 1, 2011


So here I am, managing the palace on my own while Debbie takes her Doxycillin and Prilosac in Mbabane. To bring everyone up to date, the final diagnosis was Mediterranean spotted fever, aka African tick typhus, caused by Rickettsia conorii. All rickettsioses are treated with doxycycline, but she was undertreated because of her history of stomach ulcers and without consideration of the size of the bite. Now she is taking a heavier dose, but because of that, is being watched at Gloria’s. She’s been improving and is pushing for release Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, I’m lord and master of the palace. My only subject is Lizzie who goes about her business without my interference. But I certainly miss sharing the load of the responsibilities. In Debbie’s absence and without her organization, I’ve been making more trips into town, I have to plan and prepare my meals, I’ve done the back-breaking chore of washing clothes, and it’s simply lonely within the walls of the cold palace. These might seem minor inconveniences to you, but remember this is Africa. And that’s on top of my Very Important Work.

My day starts with the alarm (on my ‘phone. You wouldn’t believe how many key strokes are required to get results from an African ‘phone.) I stumble to the shower unsure if I will have either hot water or any water at all. (And this is in our palace so I’m not complaining. The majority of PCVs here don’t have either of those concerns.) After breakfast, I go to assembly where I make a mental note of what staff is present. We have lost many of the deaf support teachers (who haven’t been paid since January. Housing, and now meals, are provided to those who have stayed.) Teachers were paid for June but the threat is that they will only get 50% for July because the kingdom is broke. Nurses were on strike this week at Good Shepherd because they didn’t get paid and Debbie had said she would help if that came about.

There is only a cold water tap to the wash tub—I cheat by adding a carafe of heated water to the tub. The tub is right outside our back door, the bottom is about knee-high and the lip about pelvis high with wash-board corrugations built into the forward slanting surface. That means it is back-breaking work to do a load of wash, labor intensive and time consuming. A number of times today, the kids expressed curiosity why my knuckles were bloody. I guess the Swazis must develop calluses on their knuckles from washing clothes. And I also noticed that nobody spoke to me while I was doing this chore even though we are always greeted when in the yard. I suspect I violated another cultural taboo.

I had to visit the NERCHA office twice this week, a 25 minute walk. My business took about two minutes to conduct, but another two to five minutes of greetings and obligatory conversation, followed by a 25 minute walk home. This is typical use of one’s time. The walk to ShopRite is another five minutes beyond and with Debbie out of town, we are burning through air-time, so I need to walk even a little farther to buy air time for my ‘phone, and I transfer a portion to her ‘phone. I am only allowed to transfer E100 per day, so I’ll make several walks into town just so we can keep in touch.

Meals are a challenge for me and I must compliment Debbie for her originality and versatility. I’ve explained before the limitations we find in the grocery, so I won’t repeat myself. I’ve even bought a can of beans, but haven’t had to resort to it—yet. Dinner last night was wurst in pasta with broccoli salad (after treating the broccoli in bleach solution, of course).

I refer you to Katie’s link (in my side bar). She wrote an interesting blog on what to bring and what to expect for Group 9, “Greetings, future PCVs”, on May 9.

I’ve added another link, “Swazi Media”, which changes every day so I’m not sure what you’ll see, but it is very interesting, uncensored, reading on the Swazi political scene and should be most cogent when there is no money left next month.

And for those of you who venture into U-tube, check out “So you think you want to join the Peace Corps”, four minutes of humor in truth. Pick the phrases that apply.

The weather is absolutely beautiful here now. I continue to be impressed with the big, blue, clear sky. Debbie has spent some time in Gloria’s yard and if you’ll excuse me, I’m going for a run. I hope the next post you read here will be written by Debbie on Sunday.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Debbie update: Tests were 'normal' except for elevated blood pressure. She is feeling better and headaches have dissipated. Hoping for Wednesday release if blood pressure subsides.

When first we came to campus, we were prepared only with ‘hello’, ‘how are you?, and ‘I am fine’. As I was being introduced to all the classes, I noticed many of the students making a common sign [hook your first finger over the tip of your nose] which means mlungu (white person), (because we have long, pointed noses). Much later, I was given my sign name [open N to my receding hair line], probably the closest, politically correct thing to calling me “baldy”. It could have been worse: All these kids are fascinated with mlungu body hair and my dewlap, and they frequently pat my arm hair (even my legs if in shorts), and my ‘buddies’ have been known to flip my dewlap. (Perhaps nobody lives long enough here to develop a dewlap.) The most recent sign of familiarity with me is when they walk me across campus, some will mimic my stance and stride in exaggeration. Some of our girl PCV visitors are surprised when they get a boob pat-down, too. But I digress.

I have a sign tutor; she works on ‘African time’ and was out for over a month recuperating. Nevertheless, I now have a vocabulary of maybe 500 signs. I proudly reported to PC that I had given a five minute ‘talk’ to staff one day and our APCD apparently reported that I had given a ten minute talk in sign; I was later congratulated on my 15 minute talk. Anyway, the subject of my talk was misunderstanding a student who had signed something to me which I didn’t understand. He had asked to go to the toilet using Swazi Sign Language (SSL). So I asked my counterpart (present at that time), Why didn’t he use [“toilet” in American Sign Language (ASL)]? After a brief pause, she said, “That means ‘sex’”—which explained the blank look on some of my student’s faces earlier. So the point of my talk to staff was questioning the use of SSL when using ASL would be more universal and would afford them all kinds of instructive publications and teaching aids. But, alas, it seems my argument fell on deaf ears.

The frustration of time in the library sometimes has me talking out loud to myself and, self-consciously, I’ll shout, “Did anybody hear me?” There is a feeling of relief when I look around and all heads remain down and nobody is looking at me.

The kids are eager teachers when I’ve asked for help, but I get variants from them, so I refer to my tutor to get the ‘standard’. Even then, I notice staff frequently arguing on how something is signed. To that end, I was conversing with a friend and missed his train of thought, so I responded with a long sequence of random, wild motions, even flipping my fingers behind my knees and over my head. After a moment of surprise, he and several around us were laughing hard at my command of the language. Our conversations are rudimentary, but the point is made. When one of ‘my girls’ pointed to my ‘runner’s toenail’, I signed [sick-from-running]. She responded with a heartfelt [sorry].

I recently gathered together several Dr. Seuss books and put them into a ‘browser box’ (librarian talk) with several other ‘fun to read’ books. But then I thought, what is it that makes reading Dr. Seuss so enjoyable? For us, it’s the rhyming sounds and rhythms—but these kids have heard no sounds so can’t relate a sound to marks on a page. I’ll leave you to consider what Dr. Seuss means to the deaf. Until next time, this is Gary, signing off.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


First of all, an update on Debbie: After coming home and feeling miserable, she was driven back to the Mbabane Clinic today and will be resting at 'Gloria's', waiting for the results of multiple tests. I'll update you when we learn something. Meanwhile, the following was written earlier this week in anticipation of this date.

One year ago today, we left Atlanta for our Peace Corps service (answering John Kennedy’s “…ask what you can do for your country”). The next day we found ourselves in a new culture, and after a full year of exposure we have become accustomed or inured to many sights or cultural practices that we couldn’t predict. They were of interest to begin with, but now, these are a few things we find ourselves taking for granted because we see them every day:

Babies riding on the backs of their mothers/grandmothers/sisters, content in their ‘papoose’.
Women (rarely men) carrying large, heavy loads on their heads.
Boobs. (Of contrasting interest, we don’t dare expose our underwear on the clothesline, apparently considered scandalous.)
The lack of personal space; you only own the space you occupy and only for this instant.
Cows and chickens—usually encountered on our way into town.
Lizzards; cute little guys, no longer than 10-12 cm, we share our palace with, and we call them all “Lizzie”.
Cars that coast through stop signs, khumbis that speed and tailgate, and drivers who see how close they can come to pedestrians.
Driving on the left, walking on the right. I am allowed to drive in South Africa and completed almost 1,000 km without incident.
Greeting everyone you meet, but getting in return a beautiful Swazi smile.
Inconsistent, unpredictable, unreliable utilities.
Trash/debris scattered everywhere (mostly because there is no place to put it).
Everyone walks everywhere. (The penalty for noncompliance is a Khumbi ride; severe, indeed.)
We use cash for everything. Credit cards have been used only for on-line purchases.
But there are things we will never understand or become accustomed to such as ‘African time’, the presence of HIV /AIDS, poverty, political corruption or, oh yeah, ask me about riding in khumbies sometime.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Bear with me while we look at just a few more pictures that will give you a flavor of last week. (Just be thankful you don't have to sit through all of them.) This first one is a beach on the Indian Ocean where I happened upon this three legged alien creature. He gave me no trouble.

Yes, we did see hippos totally out of the water, but I thought this was a neat picture (and I'm calling the shots here).

The hippo pan at sunset

If I haven't manipulated these too much. you should be able to double click on a picture to enlarge it.

Zebra and red duiker under a full moon.

Some days Mo wasn't feeling very well, but she always had her binoculors with her and was always birding. She saw some big birds...

...and little birds.

A male impala with his harem.

A male impala who has lost a horn. Some days are like that.
Debbie didn't seem to feel as bad after seeing this.

We saw the largest warthogs we've ever seen. Notice the one in the middle has a head on both ends--quite rare even in deepest Africa.

I'm not stickin' my neck out, but I think we saw giraffe.

A view of Africa as we were climbing toward Hilltop Lodge. Magnificent valleys in grand expanses.

An impala with two Burchell's zebra, one immature.

I took 24 pictures of varying stages of the eclipse; this one is just prior to totality when the moon turned deep, blood red.

I have a few hundred more but, come to think of it, nobody asked to see even these, so this concludes my presentation. You know where to find me.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Some of you (family) know that I am home alone now. For the rest of you (I actually know of one or two who read this), Debbie is being cared for at ‘Gloria’s’ in Mbabane after being diagnosed with African tick bite fever. She is on a short course of azithromycin and is feeling better already and will be home before the end of this week. The culprit is Rickettsia africae, passed by a tick. All Rickettsial diseases require a vector (the tick) and Rickettsia rickettsii is the etiological agent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever which is more severe. Even if I was bit, I might not have presented symptoms because I take doxycilin prophylactically for malaria and 'doxy' is the first line of defense. Except for that…
We had a very nice time on the Elephant coast. Of course, you have to start any venture here with a khumbi ride and our first night out was very cold, but once we were on our own we had perfect days with crystal clear skies and beautiful scenery (and a total lunar eclipse as a bonus).

Find the crocodile. We saw lots of crocs and hippos this trip but I'm having trouble choosing pictures without Debbie here to help make selections.
Getting into South Africa requires you to walk across the border. First you present your passport to be checked in Swaziland; when okay'd, you get a little piece of paper to carry to the next guard who takes it and allows you into SA. The same process is then repeated on that side of the border. The scraps of paper appeared to be dropped into a waste box
Beach on Indian Ocean.
The towns in SA are African in nature with the bus ranks, make markets, and Indali stores, but they have a decided Dutch boer influence and signs of prosperity with nice neighborhoods and the prominent Dutch reformed church.

Hippo pan
We took it pretty easy the whole week because Debbie wasn't feeling well. We think she contracted African tick bite fever as much as three weeks earlier on one of our hikes. In spite of that, we had an enjoyable time, great weather, and good food.

The Indian Ocean
The town of St Lucia is between the Indian Ocean and an estuary that drains from Lake St Lucia. It is a quaint little westernized town accomodating to tourists. Monkeys greeted us on our way into town every day. We visited a crocodile center on the outskirts of town.

Lake St Lucia
We based ourselves in St Lucia for the first three days and explored the wetlands and coastal area before moving inland to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park where we 'camped' at Hillside Lodge. We cut our vacation short by one day so Debbie could have an appointment with our PCMO.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
The entire area is surrounded by a Natural World Heritage Site and is noted for its' ecological diversity.

Indian Ocean behind us.

'white' rhino

An adult male kudu.
Large spiral horns, mask, and thin stripes on flanks.

A crowded beach on the Indian Ocean.

To be continued...

Sunday, June 5, 2011


The first sign was when we were in South Africa and saw a hint of color in the deciduous trees. And when we returned, the temperature barely broke 80 F, which called for the Swazis to pull on their wool caps, scarves and mittens. (They are amazed that I’m still in shorts and tees.) The butter is now more solid than it has been for months and if I knew the melting point of butter, I could calibrate it and report to you the progress of autumn. The sun is setting far, far short of its’ earlier setting point and dusk is from around 5 to 5:30. But the conclusive proof is in the morning when I can get up and Debbie doesn’t say, “Looks like another hot day in Africa”. The winter solstice is only a couple of weeks away and today I installed weather stripping in our door frames to keep the cold breezes (and dust) from blowing through our palace.

The change in the season announces the end of malaria risk, so Debbie pulled our mosquito netting down as we flipped the calendar to June 1st. And on recent walks, we’ve harvested the fruits of the season; limes right off the tree (perking my gin & tonic), and avocados from a tree right here on campus. We’ve enjoyed fresh mango earlier and litchi even earlier. Local oranges are back on the market but I noticed some apples a while back (in ShopRite) that proudly wore a sticker proclaiming, “Grown in Washington State”. Running is fun again, but I’ve noticed my scarlet-red running shorts have been bleached by the African sun when they are hung to dry and are becoming a delicate pink.

It’s time to enjoy the last bit of summer and so we will be leaving for the Elephant Coast the end of this week. We’ll pick up a car in Piet Retief (with right-hand steering) and head for St. Lucia where we’ll visit a game reserve and estuary and frolic on the coast of the Indian Ocean. …A seasonal break from Very Important Work. We’ll report back right here.

I (Debbie) have been reading an excellent book on AIDS in Africa that is a very worthwhile read. It is called 28 by Stephanie Nolen and is available on Amazon. Why 28? There are 28 million children and adults with AIDS in Africa (combined populations of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles). The author gathered 28 people to tell their life stories; some with AIDS, some caring for those with AIDS, and some fighting the AIDS pandemic. Yes, the book will make you sad and/or mad at times, but it is not dry at all, and it is informative, inspiring and magnificent. For those of you who are interested in the real story of the AIDS pandemic in Africa, and what Gary and I have witnessed in our time here, it is a must read.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


We’ve been busy.

As soon as we came back from Cape Town we were delivered one thousand books for the library from Books for Africa, USA. According to the Peace Corps workshop, they need to be registered, due date slips glued in, a stock card manufactured, labeled, and inserted into the book ID envelope (which also has been manufactured and labeled by hand), and reinforced (depending on the type and condition of the book). It is very labor intensive and time consuming (not to mention elementary and boring). I’ve had the help of my
librarian-counterpart (pictured) who is a kick to work with. Debbie has spent time with us on occasion when she needs a break from writing hospital policy. Everything is done by hand because we have no typewriter or paper-cutter. I’m making an effort to color code in an attempt to facilitate student help in the future.

The other significant project is the world map. The basics went surprisingly fast and we’re working on labeling and customizing now. When completed, I’m planning to have a companion map of Swaziland on the same wall. I’m pleased with the results, so far, and hope I can keep things moving along without entering ‘African time’. The first photo is tracing the projected image (we had to wait until after dark). In the second photo, the colorists (or colourists, here) on this day in the picture are an art class with the art teacher, Phumzile (left), and Fanelo (who teaches English comp) (all deaf).
I'll update you when completed.

I’ve spent many hours on an interactive blog with an A.P.-geography class in Florida. It was set up by their teacher who was a PCV in Western Africa some time ago. It was an interesting experience—they had some good questions reminding me of conditions here which we’ve begun taking for granted.

And there’s more: I’ve been contributing a short column to our monthly newsletter for Peace Corps-Swaziland. They were looking for the wisdom of a venerable mkhulu (read old grandpa) and I seemed to fit the bill. And, fulfilling PC dictate, we each completed our trimester reports and submitted them by deadline.

And just so this isn’t all about me, Debbie faithfully puts in her time for Good Sheppard Hospital by creating policy. She reports that a 9:00 a.m. meeting was convened at 2:30 p.m. African time is the norm at her volunteer site.

Oh yeah, the fun?! Fred & Florence visited last weekend and we spent a day with them at Hlane game reserve and another day hiking Mabuda Farm. (Ask to see my pictures.) And to round out the fun, Mo and I kept our usual play date with the pre-schoolers. We'll talk more, later.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Vacations are great. Probably the best part of going to Cape Town was simply experiencing a new environment. We saw a modern city with sidewalks, curbs and parks; buildings that required you to flex your neck to see their tops; cleanliness, and businesses that showed upkeep and pride in ownership; civic pride and organization; infrastructure that worked; and honest-to-goodness restaurants: Restaurants with varied menus; restaurants of varied cuisines; restaurants that were inviting and where you could eat confidently without thinking of your safety and health; restaurants that weren’t nondescript holes in the wall serving nondescript fat and starch. We saw the things that you take for granted in the states but we have been missing in our lives for the past ten months. One thing we relished that money can’t buy was the water: the sparkle of the sun on the waves; the view of the horizon over the surf; the fresh smell of the sea; and the hustle of the boats in the harbor.

We were at home for one day of work and then had to be back in Mbabane for an overnight meeting of the World Food Bank. Travel by Khumbi is guaranteed to leave me in a foul mood for the next 24 hours.

One thousand ‘Books for Africa’ have arrived (thanks to you who helped) and I’ll be busy (with assistance) getting them ready for shelving. I’m pleased with this shipment because they are in much better shape than last year and a better selection.

I have launched my Map Project and gotten a very good response from both students and staff. Everyone is interested, even impressed, and I’ll update you as we progress.

After coming home, we were without water for a day, we’ve had electricity disruptions, and as I write this (to memory), this is our sixth consecutive day without internet service. We’re obviously back in Swaziland—vacation’s over.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

CAPE TOWN -- conclusion

The next day, we toured wine country--headed east to Stellenbosch under cloudy skies. You still see the influence of the Dutch boers in the architecture and the neat fields and gardens. Stellenbosch is a quaint, little town, but also gives its name to the area of wineries.

Biking through wine country--wondering how I might justify this as a secondary project for the Peace Corps. ...might require more research.
Along side me is Marie, from Finland. The way they pronounce my name, you would have thought we were twins: Marie and Gary'.

This is the entrance to Lanzerac (Florence ahead of me on bike). This was our favorite winery. They grow their own grapes on site and only produce small quantities so they have never exported to the U.S. They presented themselves as most knowledgeable and sincere in their efforts to make a quality product.

After Lanzerac, we went to Franschhoek (where we also enjoyed lunch), then a side trip to Pniel where Nelson Mandela was taken to be released, and finally to Solms Delta, merrily sampling at each stop.

We toured three wineries of the Stellenbosch area and had six generous samplings at each.
After a long day of dedicated research, we slept well that night. Good thing, because next day we walked the whole Central Business District of Cape Town.

Parliament buildings and museums and the slave market, cultural heritage sites, surrounded the Company Gardens.

back to the downtown business district

Bo Kaap is the muslim area of town adjacent the business district. It has been left intact for a couple of hundred years (unlike the black and colored neighborhoods--District 6--which were destroyed during apartheid). Very colorful homes, and because it was Freedom Day, we toured a small museum for free.

Bo Kaap is loosely translated "up the hill". Where do you live? Up the hill.

We had bought good sack lunches, added a bottle of Stellenbosch red, and had our picnic on the beach overlooking Table Bay. The birders added two new gulls to their life lists. (Hoorah!)

Fred & Florence and us with the Cape Town Soccer Stadium in background, built for the World Cup competitions last year.

Beautiful weather, but Table Mtn again under clouds. At one time, it cleared and we caught a cab, said we wanted the lower cable car terminal. Off we went, until cabbie said, "How do we get there?" We had him let us out and when we looked again, this is what we saw, so we never made it to the top of Table Mountain. But we saw lots of other beautiful scenery so we weren't disappointed.

The end of a long day of walking. We had worked up appetites that were assuaged at Den Anker, a Belgian restaurant on the
V & A waterfront.
This concludes my tour and I hope you've enjoyed Cape Town as much as we did. Thanks for your attention.