From Milky Way Nights to City Lights

By Nate Allen
Oct. 11, 2020

After two years living with my Swazi family in a very rural community, my life in the city is an adjustment.

In September of last year I moved to the capital city of eSwatini to complete my third year as a PCV Extender. I’m working at one of the few schools in the country oriented towards educating children with special needs.

After two years living with my Swazi family in a very rural community, my life in the city is an adjustment. Living with my Swazi family was perhaps the greatest part of my first two years in eSwatini. I genuinely view them as my second family and when someone asks me what my last name is, I proudly say “Magagula.” I’m proud to have become part of such an amazing family—they were the people I turned to when I was having a tough day. My leaving the life I built over those two years was undoubtedly the most difficult experience of my Peace Corps service.

So, life in the city is a big change—even the way I present myself in public has changed. I wear clothing that is appropriate for young adults here. I dress business casual for work most days and I even put gel in my hair for the first time since 2016. Now that I have access to running water and don’t have to push a wheelbarrow full of water jugs for half a mile, this is all easy. I don’t even take bucket baths any more. When I see people in Mbabane who knew me from my old community, they call me a “cheese boy”—a term to describe a typical young adult guy who lives an easy life in the city.

My degree is in Urban Planning, I love cities. I love the conveniences afforded people in the city. I love that I can walk or ride a bike everywhere I need to go. Or I can take a khumbi (our form of public transportation) and still spend almost no money to go anywhere. I really love the efficiency of eSwatini’s public transportation system.

I love that I have modern and generally well-stocked grocery stores only a 15 minute walk from my house and that I can get an espresso any time I want one. I love that I can go out for lunch with someone with only a short heads up. I love that the Peace Corps office is a 10 minute bike ride away instead of three hour bus ride. I love that I can bike to the world’s second largest exposed rock in 20 minutes (Sebebe Rock). I love that I can see friends with ease and have people over any time I want. I love that I have a mini-oven/stove and a microwave, and a sink, toilet, and shower with hot running water. I love that I no longer have to hand wash my clothing.

In many ways, living in Mbabane has been so much like living in America that I have to remind myself I am still half a world away from my friends and family and life in the U.S. There aren’t cows and goats for me to herd here. I don’t have meaningful conversations with my Make and Babe (mother and father) like I used to have every day. I can no longer see the milky-way at night (completely clear because there was no light pollution) on my way to the toilet. In the city I don’t have the ability to go on hikes into the mountains with my students to fetch native fruits. Many people in the city know less about fruits native to eSwatini than I do.

I don’t experience the random conversations with strangers—the ones you inevitably find yourself in when you live in a rural area. I don’t see carefree children playing outside with friends like they did in my rural community. Here, they are expected to play inside. In general, people are much more Westernized—and much more private—here in the city than in the rural communities. This makes me miss my rural lifestyle even more.

Regardless, whether I am living in the rural area or here in the city, I am grateful I am still able to talk to and see my Swazi family sometimes. I am grateful I am still doing work that brings a sense of meaning and purpose to my life. I am so grateful to still be in eSwatini—the place that has become my home.

Nate Allen

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