Siyabonga, See You Later & ‘Ello!

Over the last month I’ve stepped foot in 5 countries (4 continents), chalked up almost 50 hours in the air (possibly more in airports) and have finally made it to my next adventure: Australia!

**

We left Swaziland on August 19th and boarded a bus for the longest ride of our lives (close to 12 hours) to Durban, South Africa.  The next week in Durban was fairly blissful.  We walked along the beach, visited cool markets, met up with friends, went to a South African braii, got our haircut, took part in amateur shark cage diving, went surfing (I just watched) and enjoyed some delicious seafood, hotel breakfasts and Indian cuisine.  There were a few hiccups, including a mouse-finding adventure in our hotel room, but overall it was an amazing week and a perfect end to our African experience.  Before we left for Durban, we were working really hard to finish everything for our project at our placement.  After finishing our final workshops, binders and reports, we had a last hurrah with our host family, went horseback riding, and savoured our very last chicken wrap an hour before the bus left.

From Durban I flew to Joburg, to London, to Vancouver and, finally, to Toronto.  Very exhausted, I collapsed into two weeks of visiting friends and family, celebrating birthdays, sending my sister off to university, helping mom pack and move to our condo and trying to get everything sorted out with my UBC online courses and upcoming trip to Australia.  On September 10th, I boarded my flight (with an extremely light and well-packed luggage, I might add).  Final destination: Yamba, Australia!

I landed in Sydney and took a connecting flight to the Gold Coast.  Once there, Anne picked me up and drove me to her home in Yamba.  Yamba is a small town on Australia’s east coast.  It’s known for fishing, golfing and tons of beaches, lakes and green space.  I arranged to spend my first two weeks in Australia house and dog-sitting in Yamba.  While Anne and her husband Paul are off in New Zealand, I’m hanging out with their collie, Molly, and settling into Aussie life.

Aussie life has been pretty relaxing so far.  I spent the first few days getting to know Molly and touring around Yamba.  I got to walk Molly along the dog beach and explore the “town” (approximately 2 blocks of shops) before Anne took me to the local golf course to see….KANGAROOS!

The roos were amazing! As soon as we walked onto the course, I started snapping away.  But we were able to get so close without the kangaroos moving at all.  At first we came across 4 of them grazing by the 8th hole.  They barely looked up; the kangaroos could care less about some over-excited Canadian hiding behind her camera.  And then we noticed a mama with a baby in her pouch. It was the cutest thing! And those pouches really stretch; there was one joey trying to jump in who I didn’t think would fit.  After a few more minutes, the roos hopped on and we took it as our cue to head out.

Since then it’s been relaxing and rainy.  I’ve enjoyed spending time with Molly and having the house to myself.  I even managed to make a pretty delicious pasta featuring the famous Yamba prawns.  Looking forward to getting ahead on these online courses, taking a river cruise, chilling by the beach and spotting some more kangaroos! 

***

Author’s note: I intended to include some photos with this post but my super slow super unreliable internet is not having it.  So just imagine a cute baby kangaroo, beautiful white sandy beach and adorable puppy!

Advertisements

“…you don’t need a holiday, you need Cape Town.”

There are a few places in the world (given my very limited tour of it so far) that I can’t wait to return to and set up house one day.  Vancouver, with an insanely overpriced studio in Kits where I will miraculously be able to see the mountains and the beach; London, where my main goals will be seeing everything that is playing in the West End and spotting members of the royal family; and new to the list: Cape Town!

***

Ale and I decided to take a long belated birthday weekend to Cape Town, South Africa.  Our original plan was to trek over to Maputo but after a long wait at the visa office (6+hours) and a re-assessment of what we want to see/do, we decided on Cape Town.

On Thursday we woke bright and early to catch a 5 hour bus into JoBurg. From there we checked in to a private room at an airport hostel and spent the afternoon in the city. To be honest, Johannesburg doesn’t wow me. Granted, we spent maybe 5 hours there but it felt ugly and overpriced.

The Apartheid Museum

The Apartheid Museum

I did, however, enjoy our visit to the Apartheid Museum.  It was (the only thing) on my Joburg to-do list and it was pretty exciting that we got to go on Mandela’s birthday! Ale and I spent a few hours roaming through the museum. I was most shocked by how archaic the ideas of apartheid were but how recent the dates actually are. The photos of the townships, ceiling covered in nooses (to represent the deaths/suicides that took place in the jails), the solitary confinement cells and the videos were the most impactful parts for me.  I’m really glad I had the opportunity to learn a lot more about South Africa’s history.

On Friday morning we took 2 hour flights into Cape Town! Once there, we made our way through the rain and overpriced taxi to our hotel/apartment accommodation in Sea Point.  The weather was pretty miserable and Ale had a cold so we took it easy that morning and enjoyed nice hot showers in our new place.

Our hotel in Sea Point

Our hotel in Sea Point

In the afternoon, we headed over to the V&A Waterfront: a combination of Fisherman’s Wharf & Granville Island.  We walked through the Victoria Mall (HUGE mall) and got our first taste of seafood at the Cape Town Fish Market. After a delicious lunch of salmon, veggies & fish cakes, we walked along the pier and stumbled in to the Craft Market.

The view from V&A Waterfront

The view from V&A Waterfront

BIG MISTAKE (for our wallets!): the Craft Market was amazing and we pretty much spent the rest of the day there! We discovered lots of cool finds and managed to cross a lot of people off of our souvenir list. We also walked next door to the Food Market so we could PIMP OUR BISCUITS! (Basically we spent $5 to bake a dozen cookies – but it was fun and delicious!). After emptying our wallets, we traipsed back through the mall and met Trevor (aka Papa Trevor aka best-cab-driver-ever!) who took us back to Sea Point. We spent a low-key Friday night enjoying Asian take-away and catching up on some bad movies.

060

Our cookies! I made one in the shape of the letter R because I'm creative like that :)

Our cookies! I made one in the shape of the letter R because I’m creative like that 🙂

On Saturday, Trevor picked us up after breakfast and we started the beautiful hour drive to Simons Town.  We basically drove through gorgeous green mountains with sea views the entire time.  Trevor even stopped at the top of one mountain for us to get out and take pictures.  Plus he took the time to narrate our drive and point out beaches, the hospital of the first heart transplant and Mandela’s old house!

Driving to Simons Town

Driving to Simons Town

We arrived at the Aqua Terra hotel in Simons Town and were stunned. It was GORGEOUS! Seriously, I took so many photos of the house (not to mention the view) for my future decorating plans. I may even look into buying the house from the owners if when I am rich enough.

Admiring the coastal views

Admiring the coastal views

After a cup of tea, we walked along the coast of Simons Town to Boulders Beach. It was a bit of a hike, made even longer by our need to stop every dozen feet to take photos and exclaim to each other how insanely beautiful everything was. I think I beamed for the entire half hour walk. I can already picture retiring here!

Enjoying the coast of Simons Town

Enjoying the coast of Simons Town

At Boulders Beach we finally found all the people tourists (the rest of Simons Town was pretty deserted) headed towards the penguins! Boulders Beach is famous for its colony of African penguins and we were not disappointed! The funny little penguins entertained us for a couple of hours: waddling along the shore, sunbathing, dipping into the ocean and even delighting us with some kisses and hand-holding. You don’t realize you’re a penguin-fanatic until you spot your first tuxedo-bird awkwardly making his way up the beach.

PENGUINS!

PENGUINS!

Smooching sea birds!

Smooching sea birds!

After spending some time with our new penguin friends, we had to un-cramp our jaw muscles (too much smiling will do that to you) and fill our stomachs with a late lunch. We enjoyed pizza, pasta and the yummiest dessert (baked red velvet pudding!) at a cute Parisian place in town.  Unfortunately, Simons Town is pretty dead by 5 so we had another early night relaxing in paradise.

Enjoying seafood pasta in Simons Town

Enjoying seafood pasta in Simons Town

In the morning, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast and sat out on the patio to take in the views. I had woken a little early and enjoyed the sunrise over the water from the window behind our bathtub. It felt other-wordly.  We spent some time chatting with our hosts and playing with the hotel’s cat & dog while we waited for Trevor.

Sunrise from our bathtub!

Sunrise from our bathtub!

Unfortunately, our plans for shark-cage diving kind of fell through (we agreed to try again when we both make it to Australia) but we did want to get out to Cape Point.  It’s bragged about as the Southern most part of the world where the two oceans meet (lies on both counts but still impressive).  Trevor drove us through the national park to the base of Cape Point where we took a funicular and some stairs to the very top.

As clichéd as it is, the views literally left us speechless. We just kept smiling at each other, searching for adjectives that we knew couldn’t begin to justify what we were seeing.  The Atlantic Ocean was every gorgeous shade of blue crashing on the shore while the Indian was a foggy expanse of muted greys calmly meeting as a giant ripple effect at the tip of the mountain.  It was hard to get ourselves down from there.

Atlantic Ocean

Atlantic Ocean

Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean

After spending even more money at the gift shop and picking up pizzas for lunch, Trevor drove us down to Cape of Good Hope where we were able to stand on the rocky beach, take in the crashing waves against the rocks (a la Little Mermaid when she emerges from the water) and document our journey to the most south-western point of Africa.  On our way back to the city we spotted an ostrich (though none of the promised baboons), picked up a hitch-hiking elderly couple and fit in a nice nap.

Us & Papa Trevor at Cape of Good Hope!

Us & Papa Trevor at Cape of Good Hope!

On Sunday evening we checked into our last hotel and I promptly fell in love again. It was the perfect bachelor apartment: spacious, beautifully decorated and modern. I think I may have freaked Ale out with how many photos I took. If I could just pick that place up and move it to Vancouver, that would be perfect.  Unfortunately, by the time we got back into Cape Town proper, most of the attractions (notably, Table Mountain) were closed. We checked our emails and ended up heading back to the Waterfront.

My future apartment!

My future apartment!

Luckily, Waterfront was still pretty lively for a Sunday night. We walked around the mall and explored all the cool shops before settling at Willoughby & Co. for a dinner of fancy seafood. We enjoyed yummy wine, a fish trio, chicken teriyaki and paella.  By 10 we were headed back home with a bag of groceries for late-night dessert and home-cooked breakfast.  We ended the night with chocolate and a Gossip Girl rerun on TV.

Seafood & wine!

Seafood & wine!

Monday morning we enjoyed our last CT meal and hot shower before Trevor brought us back to the airport. We got a little sad having to say goodbye to Papa Trevor! But we drowned our sorrows in two huge pieces of cake before our flight into Joburg.  We made it just as our bus was pulling in.

A long 5-6 hours later (including a crazy border line up) and we were back in Mbabane.  It was late so we headed to Nando’s for a last meal of chicken & ice cream before cabbing home.  Our room felt different (noticeably cleaner) and we spent the evening unpacking, reminiscing and ooo-ing over our full memory cards from a very memorable weekend.

***

Cape Town – I’ll definitely be back.

Workshop Weekend: 3 days in Malelane

This past weekend we took Friday off work and made our way to Malelane, South Africa for an in-session workshop with UBC students from Swaziland and Phalaborwa.  I went into the weekend with extremely low expectations.  We were explicitly told there wouldn’t be time for fun so I was preparing myself for mind-numbing hours of reflecting and discussing theory with a hot shower as the only possible salvation.  Turns out the hot shower (though amazing), was far from the best part of my weekend.

****

We got to the Rio Vista Lodge on Friday afternoon, after a strange trip over the border and a flat tire, and went out to the Deck Restaurant to meet the other students from SA and our supervisor, Tamara.  The restaurant looks right into Kruger National Park with a landscape of beautiful trees, hills and water.  The first thing I noticed were elephants off in the distance.  Instantly, I was in a better mood (elephants seem to have this effect on me) and was even more surprised when Maricel spotted a hippo hiding in the grass a few metres from the restaurant.

Image

Courtney and I shared this lovely room

We went into our first workshop session where each team took turns presenting their work project, host family and experience thus far.  It was cool to hear more about how Marie and Courtney are doing at their SOS Village in Siteki and really interesting to hear from the 5 business students working in Phalaborwa.  We broke for dinner and it was so delicious!  It wasn’t terribly traditional but it was nice to get a break from Swazi food for a little bit and be able to decide what I wanted to eat instead of being surprised with a plate overflowing with beans and rice. 

After dinner we were given an assignment to write about a critical event.  It was helpful to get the event out on paper and really force myself to think through something.  We wrapped the workshop for the night and got to know each other a little better over card games and drinks.  My body was pretty shocked not to be going to bed at my usual 9:00pm.

Saturday started with a lovely buffet breakfast, including the scrambled eggs with cheese that Alejandra and I have been dreaming about.  Needless to say, my plate was filled with those and I stayed far away from my usual options of bread or cereal.  We started off our workshop by defining and presenting some buzzwords and then got into the Articulated Inquiry.  Tamara had us all find topics that we were struggling with and fill out a worksheet to better define the problem and dream up a solution.  We got to go sit around the property to work.  I sat on a nice shady bench behind a palm tree with Kruger right in front of me.  I’m sure the setting must have had something to do with how much I got out of that first worksheet; I wrote a lot and really delved into a topic that challenged me. 

Image

Ale and I enjoying the view

After another delicious meal, we broke into interview groups to learn more about each other’s topics.  Once those were finished, we all sat outside together and had our topics presented back to the group.  It was interesting hearing my topic based on what someone else heard and without being able to clarify anything.  It was a very vulnerable place but I was so impressed to hear all of the tough topics our group chose to personally grapple with and publically reveal.  During the presentations, Tamara interrupted to point out a herd of elephants grazing just behind us.  It was like something out of a movie.  There were about a dozen elephants just on the other side of the fence; including a couple of little babies! We all bounded over and pulled out our phones and cameras to capture the moment. 

Image

ELEPHANTS!!!!

Our workshop ended early on Saturday so Ale, Maricel, Jerod, Shawn and I decided to go on a night drive through Kruger Park.  Ale and I had been trying to plan a weekend to Kruger but it was looking pretty expensive and pretty far away. So when we found out Saturday’s session would end around 4, I quickly arranged with the front desk for a three hour night drive through the park.

The initial drive over to Kruger was very windy.  We were all getting hit in the face with bugs and who knows what else but we continued giggling all the way there from sheer excitement.  We joined a larger safari truck and set off into the park just as the sun was setting.  Within the first 10 minutes, our guide, Patrick, spotted a leopard!  I hadn’t noticed a single thing but sure enough a small, speedy cat walked out from behind the tree.  I barely got a photo in before he was gone; even walking, leopards are pretty quick. 

Image

Our first animal sighting in Kruger

Next we came across some elephants just a few metres from the road.  I was really lucky that the big one eating was right next to my side.  Unfortunately, my camera isn’t the best, so I don’t think my photos do him justice but it was kind of incredible just to sink into my seat and stare at him.  He seemed completely un-phased by the flashes (probably because elephants have terrible eyesight) and just continued eating and doing his thing.  Throughout the rest of the drive we came across a big herd of elephants in the bush, a mom and baby grazing and two young ones fighting.  It got to the point that our driver wouldn’t even stop, we had seen so many.  He did, however, pull over for us to see a rabbit…

Image

The three hour drive was very cold.  Ale and I huddled under the blanket they thankfully provided for us.  Patrick had explained that viewing animals was all about luck and for a while it seemed like we were pretty unlucky until Patrick got a call and took off speeding into the distance.  The guy behind us, a veteran game drive passenger, knew guides only sped for one thing: lions.

Sure enough we pulled up next to another truck to see a lone lioness walking down the road.  Ale and I were giddy; we’ve been talking about wanting to see a lion forever!  We stayed with the lioness for quite a long time while she hid in the bush, swerved along the road and ate some grass under a tree.  She looked so powerful and natural.  I love that the animals in Kruger don’t seem to be affected by the cars or cameras.  Unlike the sedentary animals at the zoo, they are active and free to wander.  Luckily, they let us gawk at them while they go about their business.

Image

The best part of the drive was when we pulled over on a bridge overlooking a stream.  Patrick let us all out and instructed us to turn off all of our lights and be quiet.  It was pitch black and the only noise was the running water underneath us.  Looking up, we were treated to the most spectacular and unbelievable night sky.  Filled with so many bright stars, it felt as if someone had plugged fibre-optic lights into a dome just for us.  A sky like that just doesn’t exist at home.  I was smiling so hard and getting neck cramps from looking up, it was just that beautiful. 

After a very cold ride back to our hotel, we sat down for a late night dinner and rejoined the rest of our group.  Tamara took us into town to use the ATM and then we all hung out for a bit before another fun night of drinks and games. 

On our last morning in Malelane, I made sure to savour the incredibly hot and powerful shower (even better than my shower back at home and leagues ahead of the bucket I’m using here) and enjoy my last plate of eggs.  We moved into our session and completed worksheets on the dream and design phase of our topic.  Once complete, we all sat outside and shared our provocative proposition and action plan with the group.  Tamara made us stand up to present; after all a bold statement can’t be made sitting down.  It was kind of liberating to have had the time to work through and plan a response to my challenge and then share the potential positive outcome with the group.  Everyone had taken the assignment seriously and really pushed themselves to work through some tough stuff.  We closed with some reflections on the weekend including keeping up this motivation throughout the rest of our time in southern Africa.

Image

An elephant came by to see us off during our last meal in Malelane

After lunch we took a family photo before saying our goodbyes and loading back into our car for Swaziland.  I felt strangely connected to these people who I had only met a few days ago.  We spent a lot of time together and it really felt like we had all learned something and shared this experience with each other.  I think it was really important for us to have this weekend workshop.  It was an amazing opportunity to take a break and step out of the experience to remember why I wanted to come in the first place and what I need to work on to realize those goals. Before, I found myself forgetting the bigger picture and slipping into a routine of complaining and complacency; the past three days really changed that.  More than the wonderful shower, yummy food and awesome game drive, this weekend was about recharging with new friends, new realizations and renewed motivation for the rest of my adventure. 

This weekend in Swaziland…

This weekend was Alejandra’s 22nd birthday and we celebrated by taking in some Swazi sights, walking a lot and fitting in a scary number of movies.

****

Friday after work, we picked up a few things in town and headed home just before it got dark.  We had dinner with our family and then hung out with our older brother and some of his friends in the house next to ours.  It was fun to meet some new people, drink yummy rosé and stay up later than we had in a while (aka past 9pm).  We left the guys early to fall asleep watching movies, with an added soundtrack of the always-on TV, music from next door and our friendly neighbourhood roosters. 

On Saturday, we started Ale’s birthday off with what we thought was a trip to the Ezulwini Craft Market.  First we walked with Sonto to the Corner Plaza for lunch at Galito’s and then turned the corner to find 6 stalls set up.  The crafts were beautiful, and we managed to find a few little things to bring home.  The other UBC girls had told us about a market with hundreds of stalls, so when Sonto said the next market was just down the road, we figured that’s where she was taking us.  Almost half an hour (of mainly uphill) later, we arrived at the entrance to the Royal Swazi Spa to find one craft stall! I was a little disappointed, but I’m sure the walk was good for us; we’ll visit the actual market some other time.

Image

The small market we found full of practical items like huge wooden fish

 Once home we passed out on our beds, watching movies and relaxing from our walk, until dinner time.  After dinner, we started on Ale’s birthday dessert: brownies and ice cream!  She blew out her candles and we dished out the yummy dessert, which was a huge hit with our family (way better than the baked mac n’ cheese disaster).

Image

Ale and our younger brother Sakihle

Sunday morning was a slow start for us but we eventually made it over to SOS (we can’t seem to go a weekend without stopping by work) to meet the other UBC girls.  The three of them, two of us and a bunch of girls from the youth home headed out to Sibebe Rock.  Sibebe is the second largest freestanding rock in the world and the largest granite one.  Ale and I had heard mixed stories about hiking or rock climbing Sibebe, but the SOS girls had just planned for a picnic at the base.  We piled 13 into a truck/van and took a very bumpy ride over to Sibebe.

Once at the rock, Laura, Karen, Ale and I decided to hike up a little and take in the views.  The whole climb is about 3 hours but it was already late afternoon by the time we got there, so we didn’t have time to do the whole thing.  The view was beautiful; I’m always amazed at how varied the landscape is for such a small country.  Flats planes covered in tall grass met giant boulders that bent into a green valley dotted with homes in the distance.  Laura remarked that it was the quietest she had ever heard Swaziland.  We took some photos and headed back down to join the other girls for a picnic of ham sandwiches, s’mores and chips.  The girls had never roasted marshmallows before and we were more than happy to introduce the traditional Canadian camping snack into their diets. 

Image

The view from Sibebe

Image

We made it (about 20 minutes up, with some huffing and puffing) !

The truck/van came back to get us and this time we piled 15 girls into the back for a total of 18 in the vehicle.  This is a vehicle that has 3 actual seats and a trunk that comfortably fits a single mattress, or uncomfortably fits 15 grown women.  Squished against the metal frame with the cold wind rushing in from above and one of many singing/screaming girls sitting on my feet, I couldn’t think of a worse transportation experience.  But we laughed as the youth home girls belted out songs (their favourite being a chorus of everyone’s names) as we raced over bumps and around corners.  After a little confusion with the directions, the driver brought us right to our home and I, a little bruised and numb, slid out of the trunk with a sigh of relief.  Ale and I waved goodbye to our friends and finished the night with a little plate of dinner, bigger cup of ice cream and yet another movie.

Image

15 ladies piled in the back!

Image

This vehicle held all 18 of us!

****

All in all, an amazing weekend here in Swaziland! 

10 surprises you’ll find in Swaziland

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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! 

Week 1 in Swaziland

I’m in 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. 

Image

Our kombi from Mbabane to work!

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.

Image

Ale and I enjoying the sunset views

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. 

Image

You can’t tell but there really is a crocodile under the tree!

 

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!

Image

Keeping bits of home with me in Swaziland

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.