A DAY IN THE LIFE OF…
One of the most frequent requests I get from friends/family at home is; “what is an average day in your life like.” I never know how to answer this question, it varies, and after your here for a while, “out of the ordinary” events, become pretty standard. However on a recent trip to town, I realized that THIS was worth sharing.
Laying in bed at 5am, I can hear the morning scramble from my family outside. The sound of feet hitting the packed dirt around my hut. The shrill scream “Bonigile!!!” from Make, every few minutes. Bulunda, singing a carefully selected pop song, which she screams at the top of her lungs, making up the words as she goes. The roasters join in the morning activities, with a crow that sounds like they have had too many late nights of smoking in their coops. I stay in bed trying desperately to hold onto sleep. I wrap my blanket around my ears, create a cave with pillows surrounding my head. Ultimately I give up around 7am, but I know I don’t have anything to do until 10am, so I linger in my sleep cocoon a little longer. At 8am I reach my arm out of the safety of my blankets, under the mosquito net, and my finger tips search the cold cement floor for my blackberry. While I was sleeping, friends and family were awake in the states, going about their lives, and I am hoping to catch a news clip or at least something entertaining to lure me from my lethargic state. When facebook fails to load due to “temporary network problems”, I climb out of my nest.
As I press the button on my electric kettle, I will with every cell in my body that the power has not gone out so I can have my morning VIA. While the water heats, I use the “bathroom”, and laugh that I can now call the small orange bucket by my door a “bathroom”. Taking my toothbrush from an old tin can on my shelf, I brush my teeth over another bucket. Kettles ready, and I make my coffee, sitting on my bed staring at my wardrobe that is now visibly duct-taped together, wondering if it will be 100 degrees today, or the temp will drop with freezing rain- anything is possible in Swaziland.
Today I have something to do, which means my “starring-time” is cut in half. It means I will actually get dressed after coffee, and not find random things to google from my phone. Today, I have a feeling a package has come for me at the post office. I have no proof, just a feeling I hope is right. I also want to upload the 2 blogs I have prewritten, and have been carrying around on a jump drive for over 3 weeks now.
I walk up our uneven dirt drive, down our dusty gravel road to my “stesh”. Sitting on a big boulder, in the shade of an old tree- the sun is already beating down, and the shade feels good. There are a few women waiting on the cement stoop of the store across from me, large sacks of grain at their feet. After about 45 minutes, or 3 failed games of “blocks” on my phone, the khombi pulls up. I call this one “coffin khombi” because the entire interior is a dusty brown velvet, with a quilted pattern- even the ceiling. When it reaches top speeds on the slippery dirt road, begins to fishtail around corners, there is no doubt that you are ridding in a coffin. I am nestled in the middle row. Two rows of 5 bomake, with baby birthing hips, and babies on their laps to prove it, are crammed into the back. I am balancing on the seat that flips up to become an aisle, but I’m only half on this seat. The other half is shared by a young woman and her two small children. This is not a good seat, but mostly because every stop I have to get off, so people behind me can get out. I stand outside the door as people hand me large sacks or small children to lay by the side of the road, and then we all pile back inside again, trying to remember how we all fit the first time. I’m next to a new young women now, and she has noticed the tattoo on my wrist. She is asking who wrote this on me? When it will come off? Tattoo’s are rare here, and they are often a topic of conversation on my rides to town. They are astounded that I would willingly go and have someone draw on me with a needle. Makes sense when you put it that way…
I arrive in town a little later than usual. The bus rank is loud with afternoon travelers. The post office is closed for lunch and there is already a line outside- but not really a “line”. There are no lines here, just crowds of people with pointy elbows. I decided to wander around the corner to the internet cafe first. I walk in to the large empty room and sit down at the only computer that looks like it post-dates 1984. the employee working, comes over and asks if I prefer google or yahoo. “?” it doesn’t matter, I need my blog site. He doesn’t know what this means, so chooses google for me. “fail to connect”- internet is down. The man comes back, and tries yahoo this time. I know this will create the same result- the internet is down. I was right. But he tries google again. This goes on for 15 minutes before I am able to smuggle myself out of the chair. I’ll just come back after the post office.
The post office is still closed…
I decide to venture into the black hole that is shoprite. Shoprite is kind of like Target. Its a grocery store, but its the kind of place that you can’t walk into without walking out with a purchase. I enter the bramuda triangle, it’s crammed as usual, with people. Its hard to walk down an aisle There is a saying here, “there is no hurry in Swaziland”, I am told this all the time, and it’s true, I have nowhere I’m hurrying to. However, it doesn’t make the Make blocking the aisle, and staring at you like you have a problem any less annoying. I refuse to pick up a shopping basket in this place, if I can’t carry it, I won’t buy it is my philosophy. I’m teetering a jar of salad dressing, lettuce, a couple carrots, onion and tomato in my arms as I wait in the LONG line at the check out. The women behind me is standing so close I can feel her breath on the back of my neck. She keeps nudging me to step forward because clearly there is 3 inches between me and the person in front of me- that space mustn’t be wasted. When I finally arrive at the till, I wave off the plastic bag, and pull out my reusable sack. It’s like someone has scratched the record- everyone just stares at me in disbelief. Plastic bags are like gold here- people use them for EVERYTHING. But I have a stack taking over my hut at the moment, and I hate plastic bags or anything that is meant to last forever- it’s just not environmentally friendly.
Walking out I see Hacheema, my little bro across the street. Apparently I was suppose to wait for him at the stesh- I don’t remember having this conversation. He follows me to the post office, which is now open. As I stand in the “line” I’m trying to think of a good excuse for not having the key to my PO box. I share a box with 4 other volunteers, only 2 have keys. We have been trying for 4 months to get a copy made, but the new keys have yet to open the box. Sometimes we try to plan meet ups in town, but trying to get 2 people in the same place, at the same time, in rural Swaziland is more challenging than you’d think. I’ve created a method called “fake it”. I flash my neighbors spare key, and say my key isn’t working, this usually warrants a dirty look from the woman behind the counter. She gets up from her perch and walks down the hallway to the left. 15 minutes later she passes by the window to the right. 20 minutes later she shuffles to the window carrying a large box. I sign all the papers she passes under the thick glass, and she stamps the pages as hard as she can, multiple times. I then have to wait for someone to come and get the box from her, and pass it to me at the office door.
I have to go home, town has worn me out. I tell Hacheema to go run his errands and i’ll see him at home. He has to buy flour for Make, and goes off to the wholesaler. I’m standing in the bus rank with 20 other people waiting to get on the 14 seater khombi to Tikhuba. I notice for the first time that I am no longer sweating- in fact I’m freezing. The clouds have rolled in, and its about to rain. As I stand staring at the clouds, hoping it will wait till I’m on the bus, a police officer strolls over in my direction. He is wearing a bullet proof vest, combat boots up to his knees, a low fitting hat so I can barely make out his eyes, and in front- an AK-47. He stands directly in front of me, and the cold barrel of the gun brushes my arm. “come with me for a moment” he says in a deadly serious voice. I don’t say a word, just pick up my box and follow behind him, trying to ignore the worried faces of my neighbors. I follow him to the sidewalk above the bus rank where 7 other officers are standing around. They surround me. The biggest one stands in front of me, I’m a little worried, and then he breaks into a big Swazi grin. We chat for a while, he wants to marry me, I tell him I’m already married (shhh) and besides American husbands stay home with the children while the women go to work and make the bacon (this usually ends the marriage conversation). He isn’t buying it. He persists. He wants my phone number. Usually I give fake numbers, if I can’t get out of a marriage shake down, but this guy is a cop- I can’t lie to the police (well a lie he could find out about anyway)…besides, he has a VERY large gun. I manage to get out of it somehow, and tell him I must return to the rank, my bus is leaving.
It already left….
I continue to wait among the crowd for another bus to come. Hacheema appears with a plastic bag full of fish and leaves it by my feet. It’s been at least an hour since I parted with him the first time, he still has to get the flour he came to town for. I now have a large box, my groceries and a bag of fish; the four of us hang out at the rank for a while watching the commotion that is endless in the bus rank.
Eventually the khombi rounds the corner… the coffin khombi again. I fight my way in, all the way to the back, lugging my box, groceries and bag of defrosting fish. I settle in the back with a couple of young guys who make me crawl over them to get to the window seat in the far back corner. The BO is intense already, and my window doesn’t open. I text Hacheema that I’m about to steal his fish, so he better hurry up. A few minutes later I see him through the grease stains on the window, struggling to carry a sack of flour nearly as big as him. I have somehow managed to save him a seat, and he proceeds to haul the bag of flour like a corpse to the back of the khombi. We sit in the back playing games on my phone and watching the bus fill up slowly. With each new passenger you can feel the khombi sink a little closer to the ground. When literally nothing else can fit inside the coffin, we hear the engine start. Relief sets in. then the engine fails. A few people get out, and they try again. Relief. We roll a few feet, and the engines cuts out again. Then everyone starts to pile out. Another khombi has arrived in front of us and its already nearly full, and I’m still in the back seat with my box, groceries and bag of smelly fish. Luckily I know this khombi, its my friend Casper. He is a regular on my route and he always lets me sit up front so I can share my ipod- one bud for him, one bud for me. He sees me, and waves me into the front seat, kicking out an older man that had already claimed it. It’s good to have friends.
I’m in the front seat, although sharing it with a younger guy, who is a little concerned about my bag of fish that is now dripping on the floor. I try my best to shove it under the dashboard, but as soon as we are moving, the bag creeps closer and closer to my toes. Eventually the whole bag is on top of my feet, and I can feel the sharp fins and juice seeping into my skin. The back is so full, I can’t tell if Hacheema made it in. I can’t really move. I have bags and a giant box on my lap.
About 5 minutes in, the passenger side door pops open. I grab the “oh shit” handle. The khombi keeps going as the guy behind me opens his window, reaches out and slams my door shut. I can still see the road through the crack in the door, but I just hold on tighter to the handle- honestly I’m more concerned about the fish on my feet. Despite the faulty door the front seat has many perks. At most your sharing with 2 other people instead of 20+, you can see where your going, you have leg room and if your lucky you can be guest DJ. However, seeing where your going is not always a blessing. The front of a khombi is very flat, and on a dirt road you don’t swerve to go around anything. At times you think the ride from town is really just a game of frogger, except your not the frog… your the giant truck or speeding cars that run the frog down. I honestly think sometimes they aim for small children. Goats must be double points. Cows might as well be flys on the windshield. Its best just to close your eyes… keeping in mind your door doesn’t latch of course.
A quarter of the way home is starts pouring rain. My door is still ajar, and my window won’t close. Now my already wet fish are soggy. I’m also curious is Make would be mad if she knew they fish rode home on my feet? Good thing they keep the skins on fish when they cook them here.
The rain has slowed us down a lot, and it’s already starting to get dark. I left the house at 11am to “run” to the post office. Its now nearing 6pm. When we finally make it home, Hacheema exclaims “ I’m home already!” already? Apparently this was the quickest trip to town he has ever made. I was hoping to be back several hours ago. I am exhausted, hungry and smell like fish.
I go in my hut, turn on some music on my computer. The power is out because of the rain, so I light a candle and prepare my salad. I don’t ever get to eat salad, so I’m very excited about this. I take a huge first bite, and have lettuce sticking out of my mouth. Or is it lettuce? Nope. Hanging from my lower lip, covered in salad dressing is a little green inch worm that failed to wash off. I take it out, and throw it out my door. I stare at my salad. A whole head of lettuce sitting in this bowl. I’m going to be thinking about that stupid worm the whole time. But I wasn’t about to let a little worm ruin my dinner… my only dinner option. I brought the candle closer, and inspected each forkful before eating it. Half way through the salad, I even gave that up- what I didn’t know wasn’t going to hurt me. Heck, maybe a little unexpected protein would do me good right?
Now its time to clean up…bucket bath style and get ready for bed. Tomorrow I have to go to the BIG city. As I sit on my bed typing this, I can only imagine what that will bring…