Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy and Merry, Swazi Style

When I woke up at 7:30 on December 23, it was already 80 degrees inside my house. I immediately stripped down to a sports bra and shorts and parked myself in front of the fan, stringing paper beads onto necklaces and watching “Love Actually” to remind myself what Christmas is SUPPOSED to be like. At 10:30, as my alarm clock informed me the temperature had reached 96, my power went out. Rather than melt, I turned a floor-length skirt into a strapless dress, tied my sweaty hair into a knot on the back of my head and made the trek to Nhlangano to hang out in the only air-conditioned place in town: the bank.

After 3 straight months of unseasonably cold rain, summer has finally arrived! Just in time for the holidays…

Having spent the majority of November on vacation, I opted to stay in-country for the holidays, house- and dog-sitting with Jenn for a friend of ours in Nhlangano. Aside from our mandatory house-sweeping and dog-feeding duties (this is more difficult than you think…the dogs eat leftovers from the butcher, which means I had to cook, cut and ration cow hearts, pig brains, and all sorts of things I couldn’t identify, along with a traditional Swazi porridge), I filled my holidays with bad music videos and cheesy Hallmark movies, screaming children and Chinese food. You know, a traditional Christmas…

To kick off the holidays, Jenn and I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Pasture Valley, helping with the Children’s Home’s Christmas Party, eating Twizzlers and playing with the kids. I gave 10-color manicures with Hannah Montana nail polish, had my hair braided (slash pulled out) by the younger girls, organized a soccer game with newly-donated sports’ equipment, taught the kids how to use my camera (which, surprisingly, still works), colored with the younger kids and had a sugar cookie-decorating party with (homemade!) red and green frosting. Despite the sheer volume of 24 children in one place, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather have spent my Christmas.

After a Christmas night feast of spinach and feta salad, pizza bread, gazpacho with papayas and mangoes, mashed potatoes, veggies and dip and cream cheese brownies, Jenn and I started our own Boxing Day (that’s December 26) tradition: Orange Chicken. We had envisioned a whole Chinese-themed feast with egg drop soup, egg rolls and orange chicken, but due to ingredient restraints we just ended up doing the orange chicken, along with some brown rice and wilted spinach. Delicious! And it was soooooooo easy. Here’s the recipe if you want to try it out:

Justine and Jenn’s Boxing Day Orange Chicken

Ingredients for Sauce
1 ½ cups water
Juice of 2 oranges (1/2 cup)
¼ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup rice vinegar*
2 ½ Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ tsp minced fresh ginger
½ tsp minced fresh garlic
2 Tbsp chopped green onion
¼ tsp red pepper flakes*
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp water

Ingredients for Chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Oil for frying (preferably olive oil)

1. Pour 1 ½ cups water, orange juice, lemon juice, rice vinegar and soy sauce into saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Stir in the orange zest, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, chopped onion and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and cool 10-15 minutes.

2. Cut chicken breasts into ½ inch pieces and marinate in 1 cup of sauce for at least 2 hours. Reserve remaining sauce.

3. After chicken has marinated, mix flour, salt and pepper together. Coat chicken pieces with this mixture either by rolling them in a bowl full of it, or Shake-N-Bake style in a plastic bag. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat, then place the chicken in the skillet and brown on both sides. Drain chicken pieces on a plate lined with paper towels and cover with aluminum foil.

4. After frying all the chicken pieces, wipe out the skillet and add reserved sauce. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Mix together the 3 Tbsp cornstarch and 2 Tbsp water and slowly stir into the sauce to achieve desired thickness. Reduce to low head and add the chicken pieces, stirring until all pieces are coated in the sauce. Simmer 5 minutes.

*I actually left the red pepper flakes out of the recipe (you can’t buy those in Swaziland) and substituted regular vinegar for the rice vinegar (it’s super expensive here) and it was still delicious. And, despite the lack of crab rangoons or fortune cookies, this recipe satisfied my craving for Chinese food.

As my holiday grand finale, I made the trek up to Ezulwini Valley (“Valley of the Heavens”) to ring in the new year at House on Fire, Swaziland’s premier concert/party venue. This year’s party was “Moonwalk: A Tribute to Michael Jackson,” complete with a magician (?), black-and-white checkered dance floor, white gloves for sale, a disco ball, Michael Jackson music videos all night long and a dance remix of all his classic hits, accompanied by the bar’s manager on the bongos. Amazing. And because it’s Swaziland and time isn’t really important, we got to do the countdown a couple of times, followed by a feast of vegetable curry. Because nothing says 2010 like magicians, bongos and vegetable curry.

A few other things have happened since I last posted a blog (including me losing my flash drive, which is why this didn’t get posted earlier). In no particular order:

• Me, Jenn and Victoria went hiking for Jenn’s birthday on the 18th. After a round-about kombi ride and bribing the kombi driver with a chocolate bar so he’d drop us off at the right place, we found the somewhat elusive (it’s not clearly marked!) Mvubu Falls. I hadn’t planned on hiking that day, so I was wearing dark-wash jeans and flip-flops and carrying a purse, but we made it the 45 minute hike (which took us 90 minutes) up the river and to the waterfalls, only to turn around and go back. Since we crossed the river something like 14 times, I was actually pretty glad I was wearing flip-flops, since I was the only one with dry shoes at the end of the day. The low point of the day was our single snake encounter, which happened early on and made us paranoid for the rest of the hike. After consulting the “Snakes of Southern Africa” poster in Michelle and Peter’s house, I’m pretty sure the snake was harmless, but after seeing a snake on our path I was definitely regretting the choice of footwear.

• I taught a 2-day workshop on HIV/AIDS and STIs at Pasture Valley Children’s Home this past week. On the first day, I taught the older girls (5 from the Children’s Home, 1 daughter of a farmhand, and Michelle and Peter’s daughter Claire) about the reproductive systems, sexually transmitted infections (complete with scary pictures), pregnancy and HIV. For most of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever talked openly about any of the topics, which is scary in the country with the highest rate of HIV in the world. The second day, Michelle and I instructed the 2 house mothers, Constance and Nelly, on the basics of HIV/AIDS, caring for HIV+ kids and the basics of anti-retroviral treatment. Of the 24 kids at Pasture Valley a small number are positive, so it’s important for the house mothers to understand how to care for kids with HIV, as well as how to protect themselves and the other kids at the home from becoming infected. It’s a complicated thing, though, because how do you treat the positive kids differently without treating them differently? They need more vegetables in their dinners, they need pills at least twice a day, and it’s dangerous for them to get hurt, but how do you do all that without stigmatizing them or making the other kids afraid of them? And how, especially, with a child who’s too young to understand what being HIV+ means? Do you tell a 6-year-old, whose whole family has died of AIDS, that he, too, is infected with the disease that killed his parents?

• The weekend before Christmas, Peace Corps Swaziland’s Country Director, Eileen, and Medical Officer, Daynese, brought Christmas to Pasture Valley Children’s Home a couple of days early. They drove down to the farm with me and Jenn and delivered a gift to each of the home’s kids: remote-controlled cars, Play-Doh machines, hand-held video games, crying dolls, Lego sets and a bunch of other things. (Apparently there’s a Toys ‘R’ Us in Nelspruit, which is only a couple hours’ drive from Mbabane.) The kids were ridiculously happy about the presents, and Eileen seems committed to doing even more for Pasture Valley. For me, I’m excited to see the two organizations I work with—Peace Corps and Pasture Valley—working together. Hopefully, even after I leave, Pasture Valley will still have a relationship with Peace Corps and PCVs.

• Between the over-eating and the taming of the children, I’ve filled my school holidays (school’s been out for over a month already) with classic movies, lots of reading (“The Master Butcher’s Singing Club” by Louise Erdrich and “The 19th Wife” by David Ebershoff are my latest conquests) and jewelry-making. Finally, I’ve started taking the hundreds of rolled paper beads I made and turning them into necklaces and earrings. So far, I’ve made long strands of beads, dressier necklaces with brown glass beads in the mix, and a number of different styles of earrings. I’ve also started experimenting with washers (like the hardware kind), both in painting them with nail polish and covering them with paper, to create pendants. It’s a great way to pass the time and still feel productive, and the Swazis who see what I’m making think I’m a genius. Perhaps they’re on to something.

Looking ahead to the long-awaited 2010, I have a few things planned (aside from my New Year’s Resolution to stop eating KFC). I’m currently working on a mass-media campaign with a few other volunteers to promote HIV/AIDS, diabetes, pregnancy, nutrition and general health awareness to kombi drivers, passengers and general passer-by along a 50k stretch of paved road in the Shiselweni Region. I’ve also submitted my Peace Corps Partnership Proposal for the support group’s community garden and water project, which SHOULD be on the Peace Corps website sometime soon (trust me, I’ll remind you when it’s actually up). Other than that, I’ll be honing up on my siSwati before my language proficiency exam in May, hanging out at Pasture Valley, reading, watching movies, making jewelry and, once the schools finally open, teaching my life skills and HIV classes at the high school. All the while not eating KFC. I have an excellent life.

That’s all for now. Merry (Belated) Christmas, Happy (Belated) New Year, and Love from the Swaz!


Bonkhosi showing off his headstand.

Bonkhosi playing with some of the cars that were donated for Christmas. I looked, they're all older than me.

Buhle and her new pink volleyball/netball. I can never tell the difference.

Anele testing out the new stencils in the preschool.

A fancy 3-tier necklace with brown glass beads that I put together to wear on New Year's.

If you look closely on the left, I've put a red circle around the snake's head.  Small, but a snake is a snake.

Me painting the girls' and boys' nails.  There's no judgment of boys with painted nails in Swaziland.

My neighbor Mathedi wearing the coolest hat ever.  It's mine.  I spent money on it.  By choice.

One of the pendants I made with magazine pages, glue, clear acrylic and a washer.  Amazing.


Jessica D. said...

Alright, I said I would buy your jewelry. Seriously, I will. Want to ship it back to the US?

Also, why couldn't you make your New Year's resolution in November!? It would have saved Erin, Brittney, and me from eating more fried chicken than we ever cared to!

Ashiq Rahman said...


I am very impressed after reading through parts of your blog. With your cooking skills I think you could be interested in this competition I have found. You cook your national dish and then you have the opportunity to win an iPad mini or money. It could also be a good chance for you to let more people know about your blog since you will be shown on their homepage and in a cookbook!
Here's the presentation about the competition:
Competition: Win iPad or Money
And here's their facebook page:
Facebook Page

I hope you will be win..