Moroccan Dream

In March, I went on a spectacular vacation the likes of which I will probably never again experience unless I somehow win the lottery.

Brett’s mom planned an amazing Moroccan adventure for the three of us.  We flew up (via Madrid) and she flew over and we had 9 days of an exotic luxury getaway.

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Ellen and our very sweet driver, Abdou.

FES

We flew in to Casablanca, but our private driver, Abdou, immediately drove us to Fes where we checked into the Riad Salam, a 16th century home converted into a boutique hotel about 10 years ago.  Ellen asked our driver to make sure we got the best rooms, and, man! did Abdou come through!  We got upgraded to the Imperial Suite and the Sultan Suite, bth of which run about $500 PER NIGHT!!   It was an absolutely stunning hotel with intricate mosaic work and fountains and woodwork.  Our rooms were fabulous.  Ours had its own sauna room in addition to the canopied bed and private elevator entrance.

The next day we woke up for our walking tour of the medina (the old city).  Our guide, Hassid, was born in the medina and you would have to be to make any sense of the winding alleys (of which there are over 9,000).  We wound our way deeper and deeper into the old city until we came to the souks (marketplace).  There are souks for all the different goods and trades, so there was a spice souk, a carpenter souk, a leatherworking souk, and on and on.  We visited a shop in each one to get an idea of the products they make.  It was amazing knowing that all of it had been around since the 9th century.

The architecture in Fes is so intricate and detailed that I was inconstant awe of how talented the artisans were.  I was thrilled to learn that we were going to go to the ceramic district for a tour of how they create the mosaics and pottery that Fes is famous for (the distinctive Fes blue is very reminiscent of Dutch delft).  The ceramic district is actually a little outside of the city because the supply of natural clay comes from the nearby mountain range.  At the co-op we visited, we saw the whole process from gathering and preparing the clay to forming it, firing it, embellishing it with silver and then painting it.  Then we got to see how they created the

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A mosaic artist putting together a fountain.

ubiquitous mosaics.  They actually form them upside down!  Each piece is meticulously placed face down in a form or flat and then when all the pieces are in place, it is covered in grout or fiberglass depending on if it is an inside or an outside piece.  I knew I had to get a mosaic piece and I looked in their showroom for something small like coasters, but to no avail.  Apparently small things like that aren’t worth the effort to the mosaic artisans.  But there was a round trivet and I was able to negotiate with the salesman to throw in a free painted coaster and soap dish.  Score!

After going back to the hotel to freshen up, we made our way to another nearby riad for Brett’s birthday dinner.  On the way, we noticed some commotion in the street and our guide explained that it was a traditional Moroccan wedding.  The bride was in a sparkly covered chair thing IMG_7350(called an amariya) carried by four guys.  The groom got on a white horse and they held hands to the cheers and singing of the crowd.  There were musicians behind everyone playing ghitas (Moroccan reed instruments kinda like oboes), and drums.  After our dinner, our guide asked the wedding party if we could sneak a peek at the reception and they let us poke our heads in the door.  That part was like American receptions in that there was a singer/band and all the dolled up girls were shaking it on the dance floor.  The only thing that was different was the huge wedding couch with backdrop that the couple sits on for pictures. But they weren’t there when we looked because they were doing one of their 5 costume changes of the ceremony.  Good grief!

Brett’s birthday dinner was very nice.  We had requested fish for the dinner and the riad staff went out special and bought it.  After we were finished eating, the staff went around turning off the lights. We were starting to wonder if they were sending us a subtle hint to get out, when they brought out the birthday cake with candles and sang happy birthday to Brett!  It was so sweet!  And the cake was yummy too- kind of like an almond tiramisu.

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VOLUBILIS

The next day was a day trip to Volubilis, an old roman site from the 2nd century.  Apparently it was also the capital of the Roman Empire in northern Africa.  You know me, I’m a sucker for old stuff so I was asking our guide questions and basically nerding out.  I loved how Roman sites are so similar no matter where in the world they are.  Same elements- forum, temple, baths, etc.  Keeping with the Moroccan theme, this site had a lot more mosaics than I had seen while in Europe.  They were spectacular.

 

On the way back to Fes, we stopped at the old royal granary and stables- where over 12,000 Arabian horses were kept for the king.  Our guide, Mohammad, was hilarious and would steal our phones to take artistic photos and videos.  I laughed the entire time.

 

THE DESERT

The next morning we started out early for our big day of driving down south to the desert.  We got to stop at lots of cool places along the way so it wasn’t too bad, but it was still about 8 hours in the car.  Eek.

One of our stops was at a nomadic tribe’s camp.  All the families were away from the camp IMG_6864watching over their sheep, but we got to meet a young woman and her beautiful daughter.  She was helping her mommy with the laundry by washing this one pair of shorts in her very own tiny basin.  It was adorable. My parents had sent along some tootsie rolls with Ellen so I gave her one and her mom helped her unwrap it and eat it.  It was so fun.  We saw inside their living tents and the tent with the bread oven.  It was fascinating to see people who live like that and move every season.

After (lots) more driving, the terrain slowly became more and more desert-like.  Finally, a little before sunset, we finally hit the sand dunes and pulled up to our camel caravan.  We chose our camels and they hoisted us up. And up. And up.  Getting on and off a camel is… exciting.  They just keep unfolding.  Their back legs come up first and then their front legs and meanwhile I’m holding on to the saddle bar like I’m on a bucking bronco.

After all three of us got up, our caravan guide took us out into the dunes.  We mosied on for a little bit until our guide stopped us and we dismounted (and I almost face planted) and then he led us up a dune.  Walking up and down dunes in the desert is hard.  I was panting by the time we made it to the crest and we sat down to watch the sunset.  We had picked a perfect day. It was clear, without a cloud in the sky, not too hot, and no wind to kick up sand in our faces. It was perfect.  After the sun dipped below the dunes, we continued on our camels for a few minutes and made it to our luxury camp.  I have to admit I was a little curious what a “luxury” camp was.  I found out.  There were 8 tents and a “restaurant” tent surrounding a campfire with cushions and pillows.  Our tent had a queen size bed, sitting area, and a full bathroom complete with sink, flushing toilet, and hot water shower and of course electricity.  What?! And there were no pipes or wires to be seen.  It was incredible.  After settling in, we went to the restaurant tent for our dinner of stuffed peppers, sheep, and roasted veggies.  And the obligatory dish of olives that comes with every meal everywhere in Morocco.

After dinner, Brett went to the tent to sleep, but Ellen and I hung out around the campfire with the other “glampers”, enjoying the stars and the beautiful full moon.  Soon, the staff brought out drums and we had our own drum circle going on (Ellen has rhythm!).  After letting us mess around for a bit, the staff took the drums and showed us how it was done.  They did some songs punctuated by gentle ribbing of the people around the fire and then we danced around.  It was so much fun.

The next morning we woke up to watch the sunrise over the desert and I finally understood the colors of the “desert” background on powerpoint.

OUARZAZATE

Our next stop was the “Hollywood” of Morocco where lots of movies are shot including Gladiator, Prince of Persia, and a bunch of movies from the 60s.  On the way through the

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Our carpet salesman showing off a nomad tribe’s tent peg.

Berber area, we stopped in a small town and ended up at a carpet store.  The salesman was nice and showed us some traditional nomadic items before bringing out the carpets.  Before we came, Brett and I had decided that if we found a carpet in our price range, then we would get it because we both really wanted one.  We told the salesman what we were looking for and he brought out one that both of us fell in love with.  It’s a Toureg tradition rug, about 2’x4’ and it has different textures, making it a foot massage rug.  He explained the symbolism of each of the designs and after some pretty intense haggling, we had a deal.  Before I could take a picture, they had wrapped it up for us so I’ll have to post a pic of it later. But it’s awesome. And the cool part is that as we were talking with the salesman, we found out that he had been an interpreter for Peace Corps in Morocco and he explained what PCVs do in Morocco (mostly education). Fun connection!

Having accomplished this goal, we made our way into Ouarzazate (WAR-za-zet) and our hotel, The Berber Palace.  This is the same hotel that Tom Cruise, Leonardo Dicaprio, and other Hollywood starts stay in during their Moroccan shoots.  And it was nice.  We had a “lower tier” room, and it was still fabulous with all the amenities like little Moroccan booties, luxury soaps, and a fruit basket!  I felt so posh!

After a great nights sleep on the most comfortable bed in the world, we left the next morning to visit the 13th century village that a lot of movies use as backdrops.  Our guide was a member of one of the 8 families that still live in the old city and was actually an extra in Gladiator!  It was very cool to see something that had been around for so long and was still used as a working village in addition to a movie set.

We left and drove through the high Atlas Mountains where we stopped at a small roadside shop to use the facilities and while I was wandering around, I met the cutest, nicest old man.

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My mountain man

He owned the shop and we started chatting about all the tourists who come to stay with him and he takes them on hikes up the mountain.  He pulled out his stack of pictures and was showing me when all of a sudden he said that he wanted to give me a gift because of my “Berber eyes and my warm heart”.  He brought me to the jewelry section and picked out a Hand of Fatima necklace.  The Hand of Fatima is everywhere in Morocco. It is present in both Islamic and Jewish traditions (called the Hand of Miriam), and is meant to signify luck, protection, and (for ladies) love.  It was an amazingly generous gesture and I was floored.

 

 

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High in the High Atlas Mountains

Eventually we made it to Marrakesh and our beautiful dar (dar is a home without an inner garden, riad is a home with an inner garden).  Dar Zamora had been purchased in 2001 by an English couple who hired designers and builders from Paris and other countires to make the hotel into an exotic romantic retreat.  It was breathtaking.  It was yet another homerun for Ellen the Travel Agent!

We had a delicious dinner there that night and woke up the next morning for our city tour of Marrakech.  Our guide, Mohammad, was great.  He was my favorite guide because he gave us so much historical context and we even had a fascinating discussion about superstitions and folk beliefs (like bad genies and good genies and how you shouldn’t take a child under two outside after dark because the bad genies will come for them, and that parents shouldn’t roll their strollers over the sewer grates because of the evil that lurks below).  I learned so much about the history of Morocco and it was all completely new information. We don’t learn a lot about that part of the world in school!

We went to gardens and palaces and mausoleums, each more beautiful than the last.  We ended up at the square where all the storytellers, snake charmers, and fire breathers are.  We stopped at the snake charmers and a gy just walked up and draped a snake around me.  Like usual… I then paid him a few more dirhams to bring out the big boys.  He brought me to where an old man was playing a ghita and lifted a drum, under which was a black king cobra.  Then he proceeded to smack the cobra in the face, ostensibly to get it to puff its neck and look more impressive, but it ended up making it mad (I would be too), and it started slithering toward me.  It was awesome.  I backed up pretty fast, but got a great video in the process.  Then a guy with a chained monkey came and put the monkey in my arms.  I loved the monkey. I did not love the chain with iron collar that the guy dragged the monkey around with.

For dinner, we came back to the square and had dinner at a hotel/restaurant our guide recommended and it was very nice.  There were live musicians and then a belly dancer came out.  She even pulled Brett out and he got to shake his groove thing (much to his mother’s and my amusement).

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Those hips don’t lie 😉

ESSAOUIRA

The next day was a day trip to the beach city of Essaouira (EE-sah-ware-uh).  On the way, we stopped and saw GOATS IN A TREE!!!!! Yep, apparently that’s a thing.  The goats climb the argane trees and hang out up there.  It’s hilarious.  In the wild the goats get up there and down all by themselves, but by the road, there were some enterprising goat herders who helped them up and down for the tourists.  I didn’t even care. It was fantastic.

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We also stopped at an argane oil co-op where we got to see the process of how argane nuts are harvested and turned into oil.  It’s harder than it looks (they let me try and I totally messed up this poor lady’s nut).

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Learning how to harvest the argane nut.

Once we got to Essaouira, we met our city guide who walked us around and we saw the docks with the sardine boats and the square, and of course the souks.  We even ducked into an old synagogue in the Jewish district and Brett got to uncover the Torah scrolls.  For lunch we went to a seafood place and got fresh grilled sardines.  Ellen was in heaven.  They were good, but too labor intensive with all the bones.  Give me a good salmon filet any day.

That night was our final dinner at Dar Zamora and when we woke up the next morning, it was off to the airport.  This trip was so much fun.  It was the first time that I had ever been to an Islamic majority country and I was really impressed with everything.  Doing a luxury trip probably influenced my opinion slightly, but I still loved the feel of Morocco.  The exotic mixed with the familiar.  It was stunningly gorgeous.  I liked Fes a lot more than Marrakech which I feel is just too touristy, but I would definitely go back.  We met some really nice, interesting people and I learned so much.  What a once in a lifetime experience!

 

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Brett and I just got back from Durban and I have to say- we kicked that vacation’ butt! So many things went right and we ended up having an amazing trip.
We left Swaziland on Monday and thought the drive to Durban would take about 8 hours, but had a driver who must have been on the run because we ended up getting into Durban in just under 7 hours. We were able to walk to our hotel from the bus rank. We stayed at Parade Hotel which is right smack dab in the middle of the waterfront strip, so we could walk to everything. Our room was beautiful with high ceilings, a recently redone bathroom, and a TV! Oh amenities!
Our first night, we took very long showers and then headed to the boardwalk for dinner. Directly across the street was a restaurant called California Dreaming and we got some delicious wraps and the first of many beach vacation cocktails. We are right on the water and luxuriated on the ocean breeze as the sun set.

The next day we started bright and early by walking to the far north of the boardwalk where there was a coffeehouse/ bike rental place. On the way, we stopped and gawked at the monkeys who apparently live in mini gated forest sanctuaries on the boardwalk. We saw a bunch of babies hanging on to their mommies’ bellies and eating from empty slushee cups. Once we got to the cafe, we rented cruiser bikes for an hour and biked all the way down to the south end of the waterfront. Beaches are really cool places where you can see all sorts of neat stuff. We saw fat bikes, a no-handle Segway (and the subsequent Segway crash), a dog in a bike trailer, and two skater dudes using their t-shirts as sails so they wouldn’t have to push.
After we returned the bikes, we decided to head over to the soccer stadium because the Internet said there was a Subway sandwich place there. But as we were walking up, we got distracted by the signs for the world’s tallest swing, so we naturally had to do that! Basically, you climb the stairs to almost the top of the stadium, hook into a harness and step off a gangway into the stadium. There’s about a 4 second free fall before the ropes catch you and you get to swing over the soccer field. It’s a rush! I was so proud of Brett because he’s a little nervous about heights, but he handled it like a champ. I had a blast, screaming on the way down and laying back upside down on the ride back up. It was such a fun experience, except I wish it had been longer and we hadn’t had to climb the 327 steps to get up there. It was entirely too many!
After our well earned Subway (not as good as in America, unfortunately), we headed back to the waterfront and figured that we were going to be pretty sore the next day after the bikes and the stairs and the jumping off soccer stadiums, so we stopped in at a hotel spa and got full body African massages. Like you do. It felt wonderful and they did fun hitting things to get our blood flowing (or maybe just because they wanted to beat us up a little), and I left feeling super relaxed and calm.
We cleaned up at the hotel and then went back to the same hotel as our massages and img_6183went to dinner at Grill Jichana. It’s a high end steakhouse and it was absolutely the best meal I’ve had in Africa. We had a delicious Chardonnay, a mushroom brioche starter and the biggest fillet steak I have ever seen. And every bite was divine! We had to roll ourselves back to our hotel, but it was so worth it.
The next day we had a lazy start to the day and headed down to the south end of the waterfront to go to uShaka Marine world. We went to the aquarium first where we saw really cool seahorses and tropical fish. The cool thing about the aquarium is the whole thing has a sunken ship theme so all the tanks are decorated with old crates or shipwreck items. I appreciated the continuity and storytelling of it all. It was much more interesting than empty glass tanks with fish. After we went through the aquarium, we changed into our swimsuits and hit up the water park side of the complex. It’s been years since I went to a water park and I can honestly say that at 32 years old, they’re just as much fun as when you’re 8!!! We had so much fun racing each other down the slides and going on the lazy river. And the best part was that since it was technically a week into the “off season”, it was much cheaper. And the day just so happened to be overcast so there were no lines for the rides and we didn’t end up burning up in the sun. The best way to do a water park!
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At that point we were pretty hungry so we ducked into The Cargo Hold which is a restaurant inside an old cargo ship and with a big shark tank inside. Fortified with mushroom linguine, we made it back to uShaka in time to see the seal show. I’d never seen seals performing tricks before and I have to say, it was absolutely delightful. I was giggling and clapping as they danced and did handstands (flipper stands?). And then came the audience participation part of the show. They asked for two adult volunteers and no one on my side was cheering, so I decided to let ‘r rip. I used my singer’s muscles to scream and they actually picked me to go meet the seals!! I got up and got to touch them and feed them and even got a big wet kiss! It was so much fun. Seals are now pretty much my favorite. And of course, I had to buy the pictures that the park photographer took. Totally worth it!
After that high, we went shopping in the nearby mall where Brett got another mini back massage and I got a Thai foot massage. I think getting massages is going to be our vacation thing. Which I am totally ok with. We walked back to our hotel and got ready for dinner. img_6239We were going to try to go to a restaurant a little inland, but I got turned around so we ended up seeing some of the local Durban… flavor… before beating a hasty retreat and heading back to the waterfront where we ate at Moyo. I had a delicious lamb curry and an African Sunset cocktail and even got my face painted! It ended up being really tasty so I was ok with getting a little lost (although my pride is still a little stung).
The next morning we had breakfast and made our way back to the bus rank, stopping at McDonald’s on the way where I got a mocha frappe. I don’t feel bad about going to American restaurants while I’m here since at this point, they’re as exotic to me as local fare. And it tastes delicious, so there.
All in all, this was definitely a top 10 kind of vacation. Things just fell into place and it came at a time when we both really needed a quick getaway.  It was off-season so we avoided the crowds, but still warm weather so we could still enjoy the beach and take advantage of those types of activities.
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And now it’s back to real life in Swaziland. Although school just started back up so I get to go hang out there, so it should be fun. At least until March when we’re meeting Brett’s mom in Morocco. Can’t go too long between vacations or we’ll forget how to do it 😉
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Tis the Season for Toys!

Last Saturday, one of my friends invited me to help teach her group of teen moms how to make developmentally appropriate toys for their kids for Christmas.  I latched onto the excuse to be crafty and made a bunch of samples of different toys that I had used at the preschool back home and had seen online.

That day the girls were busy cutting and gluing and sewing, which left some of their babies without anyone to hold them.  Enter Aunt Melody!  I got to hold and snuggle and play with a bunch of babies under the auspices of helping their moms have their hands free to learn. I was in heaven.

I had made a baby teether/rattle thing that I had seen online (and which would not fly in America because parents would be terrified that the plastic would cut their children…). I gave it to one of the babies to test out and she loved it!  I also introduced another baby boy to himself in the mirror and he became his new favorite person.  He was hypnotized by himself and was smiling when I kissed and snuggled him in the mirror.

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Toys aside, it was a great event simply because I got my baby fix and had an excuse to be crafty.  What a fun day!

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Recess!

Last week I went to visit Brett. One of the perks of his homestead is his amazing family with lots of kids (not necessarily a perk to him, but I love it!).  On this visit, his kids asked if we could go play frisbee and then go to the new playground.  The answer was OF COURSE!

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Practicing frisbee basics

Brett has been trying to teach his kids how to play frisbee for a while, but it’s hard to explain the rules in a different language without someone else to help demonstrate. So we took advantage of my being there and actually played some Ultimate Frisbee games.  For the most part they picked it up really quickly and we had a great time.  Then there were kids like his 6 year old bhuti who was doing cartwheels and handstands (the Swazi equivalent of picking dandelions in right field). The best part was that we attracted more kids so by the end of it, we had gone from 5 to about 13.  It was a blast.

We stopped before they got bored and headed to the playground that we had built and pushed them on swings and helped them climb the tower before Brett and I decided we were old and hot and walked back to the house.

Later on that same visit, Brett took me down to the river which is absolutely gorgeous.  I waded in the water and told him that when it gets hotter we would be coming back to swim.  I don’t have a river in my community (or I suppose I do, they’re just made of sand instead of water), so it was great to see that much water in one place and be able to play in it.  And the best part is it’s too fast for crocodiles so no need to worry about losing limbs!

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Swazi Tree Huggers

During the last week of this last term, my high school had a tree planting event.  The headmaster had invited representatives of the tourism and environmental department to come and speak about the environment and then to have the students plant trees around the perimeter of the school.

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My head teacher addressing the assembled students and community members at the start of the tree planting event.

My headteacher has a passion for the environment and has been talking about wanting to do this for a while to make the school more beautiful and to teach the students about environmentalism.  I was so excited for him that it was finally happening.

After the (interminable) introductory speeches, the students got to take a pine tree seedling and went off into different parts of the grounds to plant.  I went off with one group, clutching my little pine tree (sipheshula in siSwati) which I named Blessing.  The kids didn’t understand why I named it, but I told them that it was a living thing and deserved a name.  It was funny watching them go from dubious to committed.  By the end of our tree planting session they wouldn’t plant a tree without naming it first.

My Blessing was planted (as luck would have it in the corner closest to my homestead) and one of the boys planted her friend Frank next to her so they could talk.

I encouraged the girls in our group to step up and do some of the digging and planting too instead of just watching the boys and it was nice to see some of them get into it.

The kids told me that it will take 15 years for the trees to reach full size.  Maybe I’ll come back in 15 years and see how well my Blessing has grown.

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The Future is Girls!

Last week I was invited to go down to the dirty south and participate in another volunteer’s GLOW event.  She had organized a march by her girls’ club down to the umphakatsi (town hall) where it was followed by a talent show.  She wanted me to come and do a flash mob type zumba dance with the girls to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off.  I of course agreed and had a great time (after the three hours in packed buses…).

It was awesome to see so many girls marching down the road waving their signs, singing and chanting “I am awesome! I love myself! I can do anything! I can be anything!” Very inspirational.

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The girls getting ready for their march to the umphakatsi.

The talent show was interesting too.  There were a bunch of local guys who liked to rap and they got up and got thuggy with it.  Some of the younger kids also did some hip hop lip-syncing/dancing and it was super cute.

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A male volunteer showing the appropriate respect for the power of girls!

It was also cool to go down to the southeast part of Swaziland.  I had never been there before and it’s the southern part of the Sugar Belt, where big corporations grow acres and acres of sugar cane.  Its a completely different feel.  More rich, a little more western, and more businesses.  In fact, the volunteer actually funded the event entirely with corporate donations which is very impressive.

I am constantly struck by how much variety there is in such a small area.  The north, the central area, and the south are all different and there are pockets of even more different places in between.

This event was a great opportunity to do zumba, empower young girls, see talented Swazi youth, and see more of this beautiful country.

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Lawn Mowing the Natural Way

We’ve been getting a lot of rain lately. In fact, it’s rained more in the last two weeks than it has in the entire 17 months I’ve been in Swaziland (thanks for the prayers!).

All that rain means the grass is growing a lot. Last summer, my make and babe were complaining about havinoccassiobally g to “mow” the lawn (which is done with an edger). I suggested they just let the goats in and they could trim the grass. It would also be a bonus because the goats were having trouble finding food by then.

Make and babe scoffed, but the next day, I looked outside to see our herd of goats grazing inside the homestead. Ha!

Ever since then, they’ve occasionally used the goats and cows to mow the grass. Including today, when I heard crunching outside and opened my door to these helpful garden gnomes:

I guess I can put “livestock consultant” on my resumé now…

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Reading Rainbow- Swazi Style

So the libraries at my high school and primary school are finished and in use!  Finally!  This has been the Project That Will Not End.  I started it about 70 years ago (ok, maybe 7 months).  Between school breaks, my vacation, and Peace Corps trainings, it has dragged out incessantly.  But the kids are now reading, so it’s all worth it.

 

 

Now it’s time for the fun stuff. Some of the primary school teachers have asked me to come into their classrooms to talk to the kids about the library and how to choose books. I’ve taught them about the different parts of a book (the cover, the spine, and my favorite, the BLURB. It’s hilarious to listen to them say it and they crack up when I over-enunciate the “R”). I also bring in cardstock and have them decorate their own bookmarks that they can use (instead of folding the pages).  There are no art classes in Swazi schools, so it’s great to be able to provide a small art project to spice up the day.  Most of them just copy from their neighbors, but there are some kids with truly impressive artistic skills and it’s a lot of fun to be able to give them a time to express themselves.

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Using my acting skills during storytime.

The other fun thing I’ve been getting to do is storytime.  I’ve chosen books that involve a lot of movement, but easy words (my favorite so far is Pigs Can’t Fly because it uses a lot of animal words that the kids know and lets me jump and move around like a moron which engages them).  I read the story with voices and motions and then go back through and ask questions about the book to see if they understood.  It has been a blast.  Hopefully, it’s getting the students interested in reading and showing the teachers that it’s ok to act and be funny and silly.

Regardless, I know that I’m having fun!

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Old People’s Halloween

This past Halloween Brett and I had planned and made a couple’s costume that I was really proud of.  We were going to go to the Peace Corps Halloween party in Manzini and wow everyone with our creativity and wit.

And then the rains came.

And we turned into old people.

“I don’t want to go out in the rain, do you?”

“Not really.  But what should we do?”

The answer was, obviously, to put on our costumes for a picture and then promptly go back to our tent to watch a movie and fall asleep by 8.

Living the dream.

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Price Is Right contestants. He would bet $1…

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Playing Around

It has been a very busy two months! Ever since coming back from America at the end of September, I’ve been working hard on playgrounds and last week, it was finally my community’s turn!

I have to admit that it was enormously stressful to try and organize all the materials and volunteers at my own site.  I had gone into the primary school the week before and asked the students to bring in any tires that they had lying around their homesteads.  The day before my build, I went to the school to see how many had been brought in.  The answer was ZERO.  After a mild heart attack, I went around to the classes to remind them and to up the ante.  I told them that if they brought in a tire, I would give them a candy.  That got their attention and elicited many promises of tires coming in the next day.

The day before the build, I also ran into a Form 5 student (high school senior) who had finished with exams.  I asked him if he was busy the next day and if he would want to come help at the build and I would give him free lunch (and candy). He said that he would come and would bring some friends.  I was ecstatic.  I had worked with high school students at a different build and it was great because they took direction well, worked hard, and I felt they were really gaining some good practical building experience that they could use later down the road.

Then the day of my build came.  On the bad side, the Form 5 kid never showed up.

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My friend Ally teaching my counterpart Thandiwe how to use the circular saw.

And my counterpart had prematurely canceled the other adult volunteers after hearing that the students might be coming, so I ended up with not very many volunteers.  At all.  But those that came worked really hard and it was super fun seeing my 50 year old woman counterpart learning how to use a circular saw and absolutely loving it.

On the good side, it turned out that I was needlessly worried about the tires.  The kids responded to the call (and bribe) in droves and were rolling tires in like there was no tomorrow.  I went from zero tires to over 30.  And they held me to my end of the bargain.  They actually got a little over-excited and were swarming me to get their pieces of candy. But I was more than happy to oblige.

Once we started the actual build, things came together nicely.  One thing I’ve learned from this whole endeavor is that all construction projects have their own special challenges and setbacks.  My setback was that they poles they gave me were ridiculously thick so it took a loooong time to drill through them and extra effort to attach them.  On the plus side, they were super straight and I feel like if any preschooler breaks one, they should be entered into the World’s Strongest Person competition.

After two days, my community volunteers and the other 5 PCVs who came to help had created a beautiful playground.  Now all I have to do is to paint.  And start a used tire yard.

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Our MP wielding a pickaxe for the camera.

I almost forgot the most exciting part that made this whole thing worth it!  The MP (Minister of Parliament) for my area dropped by (with more tires) and was so impressed that there was actual improvement happening at the Care Point that he told my counterpart that he was going to donate enough cement so that they could build a one room structure for the kids!  How amazing is that?!  I am not above shaming those in power to make stuff happen. Now the kids will have a place to go to get out of the rain and wind and can have lessons inside!

Another bonus from the project is that we’re using the leftover wood to make benches and tables for the makes who sell food to the school kids. Improvements left and right!

Yay for development!

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The playground thus far.  Still have to make a tire obstacle course and throw some paint up there, but its looking pretty good!

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