Posts Tagged ‘food’

Thanksgiving in Swaziland

November 27th, 2011 3 comments

This has been the first holiday season that I can ever remember where I have been away from family.  Growing up, our extended families always lived far away and we only saw them a couple times a year, but when it came to Thanksgiving and Christmas we always committed to long drives and hurried schedules in order to make sure we saw everybody.

We knew celebrating the holidays in Southern Africa could be tough.  Not only are we away from family, but the Swazi’s don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Instead of leaves changing, the coming of cool weather and football on TV, we have torrential downpours (when rain comes), 100+ degree weather and cricket on TV.  Plus, most of the traditional Thanksgiving foods are difficult or impossible to find.

BUT… instead of pouting about it, Beth, Mikayla and I made sure we had one of the most memorable Thanksgivings ever.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, we were able to talk with all of our families overseas (even though it meant waking up in the middle of the night, it was worth it).  Also, Beth was able to put together a lot of Thanksgiving themed activities for Mikayla including a song that we will try to post on YouTube when we get a chance.

As for having a Thanksgiving meal, our plans changed many times, but ending up being extremely meaningful.  At first, we tried to coordinate with several Westerners that we are close with to celebrate this American holiday.  However, due to schedule changes and other circumstances, no one besides us was able to attend.  So, we extended an invitation to the Swazis that we are closest with.  This included several of the mangers, the office staff, and a couple other people from the mission.

Thanksgiving, letter T 053

When it came to food, Beth in particular was able to pull off some culinary wizardry (I am sure she will post about it on her blog shortly).  Although very hard to come by, we tracked down a frozen turkey and some smoked ham.  We had traditional mashed potatoes and green beans as well as the most amazing gravy I have ever had (thanks to the sisters!).  We had apple sauce, homemade rolls, deviled eggs, a Swazi version of collard greens along with butternut squash, and of course some sweet potatoes.  The award for creative substitution came with a variation of homemade pumpkin pie that we made with butternut squash.  It was phenomenal and if you didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t have known the difference.

Thanksgiving, letter T 047

By far the most meaningful part of the entire meal was being able to share it with the Swazis we are closest to.  We were able to explain the traditions and also express our gratitude to them for their support and assistance in our transition.

I was particularly struck by the unintentional symbolism that emerged.   In America, Thanksgiving is about spending time with family and we originally tried to replicate and share that with other Americans here in Swaziland.  However, what ended up happening was much more in line with the first Thanksgiving.  Tradition holds that the feast is tied to the Europeans celebrating with the Native Americas as a sign of gratitude for their assistance upon coming to the New World.  While the parallels are not perfect, the similarities were striking.  We are outsiders who are new here, and were were able to share our gratitude with those those who were already here as a way of saying thanks for helping us make the transition.

After dinner, we all sat around for hours and enjoyed each others company.  We introduced the Swazis to the Wii and as it turns out, they are pretty good at bowling!

Thanksgiving, letter T 058

As the evening wound down, the tone became a bit more intimate.  Several of guys who were still around thanked us for sharing the tradition with them.  They also expressed the things they were thankful.  Esau, our maintenance manager, said he was grateful to be a part of something that was bigger than just the people involved; because we are doing important things, we can work together even if we don’t always agree.  Johannes, our agriculture manager said he felt most thankful when he could look back at all the hard work and see the fruits of his labor.  He also said he was excited to see how people from different cultures could come and make new creations with current things (he was talking about Dad’s sweet potato recipe in particular).  Mzamo, our HR Director, continued this theme by saying he was grateful for how Westerners could come to Swaziland and make things better without having to change the culture.

At the end of the day, I drove everyone back to their homesteads along with leftover plates stacked high.  It gave me new appreciation for the dedication it takes for these people to come to work every day walking miles (some up to 6 miles each way) through the bush.

Our first Thanksgiving in Swaziland brought many firsts for us (first holidays away from family, first time cooking a turkey, first butternut squash pie, etc.) and many firsts for the Swazis (first thanksgiving, first time playing wii, first time to eat many of the foods, etc.).

Looking back a day later, I certainly missed seeing all our friends and family during this time, but at the same time, this weekend did more than anything else previously to solidify the notion that we are in the in fact in the right place.

Now we just need to set up our Christmas Tree and get ready for our first summertime Christmas.

Happy Holidays from the Kickerts!

Some Swazi Firsts

March 18th, 2011 No comments

I was able to get most of my "firsts" taken care of during our last trip to Swaziland: first time to Africa, first time driving on left side of the road, seeing my first zebra and croc, first time eating impala and warthog, etc.  Even still, there have been plenty of new "firsts" for me this trip:

First Black Mamba Sighting – The Black Mamba is the fastest snake and can kill a full grown human in less than hour.  Thankfully the one I saw was from the safety of the car and it was a small one.  Mambas are the most common snake in Swaziland – luckily they tend to avoid confrontation. 

First Swazi Funeral – Unfortunately one of our staff members had his mother pass away this week.  We didn’t stay for the whole funeral, but we did attend part of it (similar to visitation/wake in the States).  Very humbling.

First time picking Tabasco chilies – Cabrini raises chili peppers that are then sold to Tabasco.  On Saturday morning we headed out early with the children at the hostel to help with the harvest.

First siSwati Mass – On Sunday, we went to the traditional service at the mission.  It is entirely in siSwati, but was still very meaningful.  The dome structure of the church makes for excellent acoustics.  The sound of the singing will stick with me for a long time.

First housing contract that included the phrase "Concubines are strictly discouraged." – While it may seem very unusual to us, this is actually an issue in Swaziland where many people still practice polygamy.

First food delivery in the bush – On Tuesday we had some gogos (grandmothers) come asking for assistance.  These women could hardly walk, but made it all the way to the mission (probably a 15km trip).  We took them back home along with some World Food Program provisions.

First time watching cricket match (on TV) – Not only did I watch, but I actually learned to enjoy it.  In case you didn’t know, cricket is a pretty big deal in a large part of the world.  This week the ICC World Cup is taking place (it only occurs every 4 years).  The Aussie volunteer I was staying with is a huge fan and took the time to explain the basics to me.

First time hanging clothes to dry – Here at Cabrini they have washers, but not dryers. With the heat and dryness here most of the year, clothes dry extremely quickly.  Surprisingly, I have never really had to hang dry my clothes until this trip.

First Swazi thunderstorm / power outage – On Tuesday night, after a week of hot dry weather, we had a heck of a storm roll through.  We got at least 3 hours of heavy rain and an amazing light show for a good hour.  We also lost power.  Things are pretty simply here so lack of power is not a big deal – people manage – but it did mean no fans and no water. 

The next day I got stuck in an afternoon storm and ended up spending about 45 minutes in the local marketplace.  After the rain subsided, there was a beautiful rainbow over the mission.

First time watching Al Jezeera – After Al Jezeera released tapes for Osama Bin Laden in 2001, I had always assumed they were a radical fringe new agency.  Not the case at all.  Of all the news outlets available here (CNN, FOX, BBC, SKY, etc.), Al Jezeera is the most professional and provides the best "hard" news coverage.

Thinking about Wal-Mart

September 9th, 2009 2 comments


I shopped at Wal-Mart the other day.  It is not something I am proud of, nor is it something that happens very frequently, but it happens.  After reading Nickel and Dimed by Barbra Ehrenreich and watching the documentary The High Cost of Low Prices I become convinced that the ideals of the Wal-Mart corporation are not the same as my ideals and thus largely quit shopping there.  I admit, since my objection with Wal-Mart largely centered around their treatment of low-wage workers and their effect on Mom and Pop type stores, I considered my boycott to be taking the moral high ground.

During my quick visit to “The Superstore” I noticed something: Things here are dirt cheap!  Raspberries for $2! A gigantic bag of Doritos for $2.50!  That is like 30% cheaper than what I am used to paying.

Realizing this brought my mind back to a blog post by an urban pastor I the utmost respect for: Aaron Mansfield.  (If you are looking for a guy who shoots straight, and constantly acts on his love for Jesus and people, then you need to read his blog Apostolic Obsession).  After a trip to Estonia, Aaron wrote a post about the luxury of the higher moral road when it comes to shopping (read the whole post here: Thinking About Estonia).

Aaron challenges the “elitist” (my word, not his) view of Wal-mart:

I like Wal-Mart. As I have said before, given my ministry and given my economic situation, a store that focuses on families making 30k or less is very helpful. Much as I might like to buy organic produce at a pachouli co-op, or buy my hemp clothes from a fair-trade boutique, I can’t. Artur asked me why some people from America told him he should not shop at Wal-Mart when he came to America? How to explain it, this luxury of pointless opinions? He only said he could not get clothes that cheap anywhere, and when you don’t have much money… I guess I just reiterate my point: part of the attack on Wal-Mart becomes an attack on the lower classes.

He takes it further by discussing the concepts of buying local and organic.  He poignantly asks:

Is eating local really an ethical choice, one that is moral in a universal way? Or is it just another cool thing?

Now, I know (and I am pretty sure Aaron knows) there are very good reasons to eat local and support the local stores over the multi-national corporations:  It does not contribute to the widening gap between rich and poor; you know where your food comes from and what goes into it; it decreases the likelihood that oppressive systems were used in producing things; it cuts pollution from production and transportation; the money goes directly to the people who work the hardest; even though Wal-mart and similar stores are cheap, they often cut costs by taking advantage of lower skilled workers .

I don’t shop at Wal-mart (much) because I don’t want to contribute to the system of production it relies on.  However, Aaron makes some very good points.  Because of places like Wal-mart, people can get more for less.  As such, we should never critisize people who shop there by choice, necessity or ignorance.  At the same time, we must realize that the same system that provides these low costs often contributes to the problem.  Large  corporations epitomize the growing divide between rich and poor as executives sin in far off plush offices make mbillions (4 of the 15 richest people in the world have amassed their wealth through Wal-mart with a total net worth of 70+ Billion dollars) while an army of minimum wage workers (who are often uninsured) keep the machine running.  When you work 40 hours a week for minimum wage, you have to shop at places like Wal-mart.

I don’t think there is a “right” answer here, but it is obvious our discussion must account for the individuals on both side of the equation.  We must understand individual situations as well as the larger system.  Personally I am thrilled when people are willing to asks about the ethics of their individual decisions rather than just sticking their head in the sand and living without thinking.