- It’s cold! The locals are bundled in jackets, hats and gloves. At first, I thought they might be exaggerating but one foggy sun-less morning convinced me otherwise. It’s not Canada-cold but it does get down to chilly single-digit weather overnight. Like you can see your breath in our room, need to wear two pairs of pants, kind of cold. And if you dare tell a Swazi it’s not that cold, they’ll think you’re crazy.
- Everyone speaks English! I was really scared that the language barrier would be impossible. And truthfully, I have yet to pick up more than one or two Siswati phrases but luckily almost every person knows a fair amount of English. This has made navigating bus routes and purchasing internet sticks a heck of a lot easier.
- You better be hungry because there is A LOT of food! Every meal that Ale and I sit down to is always a heaping portion of carbs (potatoes, rice, noodles or some combination of the 3), a bit of meat and a generous serving of beans. Even with the smaller helpings we get at home, we have a very hard time finishing our plates, often casting pained expressions at one another as we work to polish off the last few bites.
- You’ll learn to live without some modern conveniences. For example, over the next 12 weeks we probably won’t be seeing laundry machines, a hot shower or a home computer/internet connection. But we’ll make do!
- Everyone has a cell phone and they are always on it. It seems like the most popular profession is working for MTN (the cell phone provider) and adding money to people’s phones. MTN employees wear bright yellow vests and can be found anywhere, such as street corners, bus stations and outside the mall. When we meet with staff at work, they always come to the meetings with their cell phones in hand. And at home, our whole family splits their vision with the TV screen and their phone screen.
- Getting a kombi to work is a serious competitive challenge. Ale and I mainly stand back and watch as our fellow transit travellers attempt to out-run, push aside and squeeze through one another to get on the kombi or into the hitch-hiking-friendly vehicle. It’s hilarious to watch grown adults all clamour for the handle of a van before it even comes to a complete stop or see old ladies high-tail it down the road to be the first to reach a car. Unfortunately, sometimes their competitiveness involves blocking little kids from getting into the kombis to get to school.
- They really do talk with clicks! As per the famous Russell Peters joke, the Siswati language really does involve a lot of clicks and other cool tricks my English-only tongue cannot pick up. It’s very impressive to hear the way Swazis naturally let the clicks roll out of their mouths. Unfortunately, because we can’t quite capture the sound, Ale and I are still unable to pronounce the name of the village where we are staying.
- For such a tiny country, Swaziland has an immensely varied terrain. I didn’t expect to see mountains from my front porch or rolling fields of grass on the way to work. Swaziland is home to everything from highways and busy city centres to farm fields, palm trees and lush green hills. Basically, the view is always pretty stunning.
- The kids want to be your best friend! On our short walks to catch the morning kombi, Ale and I have managed to make a bunch of new friends. Kids on their way to school always greet us and we end up chatting with them. Even the very little ones will wave at us and shout, “how are you?” as we pass. And at work, they’re even more precious; running up to give us hugs or hold our hands.
- The people are friendly. While this might not be so surprising, it certainly is welcoming and one of the reasons I’m loving Swaziland. Strangers greet us as we pass them along the street, Mama’s friends are excited to meet us and the staff at work always ask how we are doing. While sometimes certain people can get a little too friendly (i.e. proposing at the bus station or following us home in their car), we’ve had way more positive experiences than negative ones. From the police officer who helped us find a kombi to our brothers who came to walk us back home in the dark, the people of Swaziland really are living up to Jabu’s description: Swaziland is a small country but it has a big heart.
**more pictures and updates to come!