I’m in Swaziland, Africa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I landed in Johannesburg, South Africa one week ago and was met with a six hour layover (after an 11 hour red-eye) and over-pushy airline staff. It wasn’t the best introduction to Africa.
I flew over to Matsapha, Swaziland with a fellow UBC student, Courtney, on the smallest plane I have ever seen. I think there were about 20 people on our plane; my one seat was a window and an aisle! After a short hour in the air, we landed in Swaziland and met our guide, Jabu. Together we waited for the private kombi (a Jon & Kate +8 type van that seats 14 comfortably but is often pushed near 20) to take us to the Swazi Oak Lodge where we found Marie and Alejandra, two other UBC students, fast asleep.
The next day, Jabu took us out on a tour of Mbabane. We visited the mall and learned how far our Canadian dollar could go: breakfast for 4 with leftovers for $7 and a phone, SIM card and 30 rand worth of airtime for about $45. We also learned how popular foreign people are in Swaziland, being met with many proposals, whistles and love professions as we trekked through the kombi station.
After that, we walked downhill to the post office. I’ve promised quite a few people postcards and I’m sure the postal service from Swazi to Canada is far from speedy, so I wanted to make sure I knew where I had to go. On the way down, we noticed the beautiful mountain background and snapped a few photos, as we had been doing all morning.
The next thing we knew, we were being brought into a government building and asked to show the security officers our photos. As we browsed through our memory cards, the officers found a photo of the picturesque view that happened to have the side of their building in it; a building that clearly says “no photos” on its fence….which was impossible to read from where we took the photo. Even after explaining this to the officers, we were introduced to an embassy official who took down our information, explained that we could be arrested and possibly working against the Swazi government before inviting us to a party and sending us on our way.
We laughed off our near-arrest while walking through the craft market and sitting down to lunch (I never did make it to that post office). Later in the evening, a kombi picked us up for a sunset safari at a nearby national park.
As we drove up to the reception desk of the park, our kombi happened upon a family of zebras and we all immediately began pulling open windows, leaning over each other and snapping away. The rest of the evening treated us to views of gorgeous mountains and grasslands, relatives of the deer and gazelle, Pumbas (warthogs for the non-Lion King folk), a sunbathing crocodile, more zebras and hippos hiding in the shadows. Our jeep headed up the mountain just in time for us to catch the perfect African sunset while toasting the beers our friendly guides brought along in a cooler.
After dinner in the park, we convinced Jabu and our kombi driver to drop us off at Bushfire, an annual 3-day music festival of southern African artists. Though we didn’t know any of the bands, we enjoyed listening to the music, perusing the fair-trade market and admiring the cool architecture of House on Fire.
On Saturday we headed out to our host families. Marie and Courtney went to Siteki while Ale and I met Mama and her family in a suburb of Mbabane. We were introduced to Mama, her boyfriend, two of her five children, their helper and a few other friends. It was nice to finally be able to unpack and join Swazi family life. But Ale and I spent the majority of our first weekend with the family sleeping!
On Monday we started our work at SOS Children’s Villages. We’re working at the main Swazi village just outside of Mbabane. Transport to work has proved difficult so far (we waited over an hour for our first kombi), but we’re hoping to figure out a faster solution (aka weighing the pros and cons of hitch-hiking). On our first day at work we were introduced to another Jabu, a female this time, who is the village’s social worker. We had an orientation with UBC education students working with SOS, the national director and the programme director. Right away we were thrown into our work, meeting with staff to come up with goals for our time at SOS and meeting some of the children for individual sessions.
So far, it’s been very overwhelming to come into a position where so much help is needed and to be feeling pretty inadequate with the skills I can offer. They definitely expect a lot from us. While it is really exciting to be able to contribute so much and to be doing such relevant work, it’s daunting to be thrown into the role of “psychologist”. Hopefully we’ll get more comfortable with our positions, figure out our game plan and leave some benefit for the village that goes beyond our short 3-month stay.
So it’s been a whirlwind first week here in Swaziland! I can’t believe I have another 12 or so still to go. But by the end of this I plan to master Swazi public transportation, fit in another safari or two, appreciate the fine art of taking a bath with just a bucket of heated water, make a lasting difference at work, feel like part of my Swazi family and experience countless memorable moments to take home with me.