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.