this blog is a a little different than usual. I normally write about my life in my rural community, and my Peace Corps related projects- however, you may be surprised to know I have a social life too! This weekends events were too amazing to pass up sharing; in fact it may be my favorite weekend to date in Swaziland.
When your “rural life” consists of talking about death, dying and a deadly pandemic, it becomes an essential need to get away from site, and just have a little fun. For me, this means a weekend staying at a backpackers in the “city” called Bombaso’s. This backpacker’s is off the beaten trail and primarily used by Peace Corps volunteers and a group of Finish Nursing students who board there for months at a time. Bombaso’s is like hanging out at your friends house- except this friend lives in an awesome house, with a pool, and mountain views. Its a very cool friend. The manager of this wonderland is a young booty-shak’n British girl, who has just happened to become a good friend of mine. The owner is a young, hyper, Swazi guy with a collection of friends that come over to indulge in the swimming pool or game room. All these things combined result in epic evenings of fun, and silliness. This brings me to part one of “my favorite Swazi weekend…”
PART ONE: GETTING OFF COUPLE ISLE (saying bye to Sasja)
The booty-shak’n Brit has taken another job offer in France, and is leaving Bombaso’s. This is very sad, and not just because she gave a us a discount when we slept on her bedroom floor, and let me use her hair dryer. To send her off with a fond farewell, a friend held a bri (AKA: BBQ) at his house. All of our friends were in attendance, including my good Peace Corps friend Kelley and Swazi friend Rob. The three of us were enjoying the party…well until we realized we had become stuck on “Couple Isle”. Everyone had coupled at some point, except for us, squished 3 on the love seat. We decided we had to escape- and thus it began. All of the yards in Swaziland are gated; meaning its impossible to leave without a key. We didn’t have a key, but weren’t going to let a 5ft wall stop us, so we climbed it (the fence was more like 10ft on the opp side). Then we set out for adventure. This included crawling through rain tunnels under the street, climbing up random things, walking around balancing objects on our heads, kissing frogs (no princes) and posing as statues as cars passed.
This may sound, like ridiculous behavior- but I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard in all my life.
The adventure missions continued for several hours, and eventually we returned to “Couple Isle”, and rescued them too. We had to get back to the backpackers, but I refused to let anyone drive, so we set off with the group by foot. We taught them all the challenges along the way, took lots of pictures, and even made a few new friends along the way. When we were about half way, and as we were posing as statues, a police car pulled up. Now in the states when a police car approaches a group such as ours, your first instinct is to think of a good excuse, maybe run, or just start crying. In Swaziland, you greet them with a fine “sanibonani”, make them laugh and you carry on. If your lucky, you can even get a lift home… which we did… in the back of a paddy wagon. This night was amazing fun.
PART TWO: Bundu Bashing
Kelley and I were walking to town to run some errands when my friend Kieren called to see what we were doing. We didn’t have plans after our epic evening the night before, outside of being lazy by the pool. He picked us up in his new fancy Khombi he just got for a tour business I have been helping him get started (Chasing Horizons is the name of the company, you can find it on my facebook, as well as it’s new swanky logo:) His little brother had just flown in from university in the UK, and they were going to go for a “drive around”. I miss long drives a lot here- relying on public transportation to get you down the 3 roads in the country you know, leaves a little to be desired, so we jumped on the offer. Before we knew it we were packing a picnic, gearing up the four-wheeler, gassing up the 4×4 truck and heading off into the mountains. Traveling down roads, not often visited by 4 wheels of any kind, the views were breathtaking. At points you could see the whole of Swaziland in every direction. We ventured over rocky rivers, decaying bridges, patches of hills with little reminisce remaining of a road at all. The day was perfect. The sun was shinning, a light breeze was blowing, and the few clouds in the sky were picture perfect as they cast mile long shadows over the mountains in the distance. Locals would gather to the side of the road to wave at us as we past, and kids would run along side of the vehicles screaming “hello!”. There is no other way to see Swaziland like this. Parts of the country rarely seen by anyone but the residence of a few scattered homesteads teetering on the peaks of the giant rolling hills. There was more than one moment as I gazed over the expanse of landscape where I couldn’t help but to giggle to myself; “I live in SWAZILAND!”
Although the views were the highlight of the trip, I have to admit watching the boys play with their 4×4’s also made me think of home. I’ve realized recently, that although I consider myself a city gal through and through, I still have a little country in me. I love the feeling of being lost, or knowing your the only living sole around for miles. I find myself happy to be riding around in pick up trucks, getting excited when you hit big bump, or see a big mud puddle coming up- who knew these things would make me so thrilled?
5 hours of driving around and we had completed our drive with no destination- my favorite kind. This weekend was full of random surprises, and unexpected adventures but it makes me happy. One of the hardest parts of the Peace Corps is that your “on” 24/7. No, really, thats what the trainings say… 24 hours, 7 days a week. When you are the only foreigner around for miles, living in a hut, and struggling through language barriers to engage in small talk- 24/7 can be a little overwhelming. You need to get out, and be silly. You need friends that you can be yourself with and that can understand you need to be crazy sometimes. After nearly 7 months into my service, I am so happy I can say I have that- and this weekend pretty much sums it up.
We called ourselves the “Crazy 8’s”. As we dragged our swollen, beaten down bodies up to the border post between Mozambique and Swaziland, we knew our name had fit the punishment. A 10 day holiday– it had taken its toll on all of us. When had morning come? The separation between days and nights had been lost, we were lifeless versions of ourselves, just searching for the last bus to deliver us to the comfort of our secluded huts.
10 days earlier we departed for Mozambique, first stop Maputo. We knew we were in for an adventure the first leg of the journey when the khombi from my small town of Tikhuba to Siteki nearly exploded. It had stopped several times along the hour long venture so we could cool the engine. The front bench, that was directly over the engine was so hot at points it was searing our bare legs. Each time the bus stopped, Kelley and I would jump out, lugging all of our bags with us, as the driver fanned the engine and poured water on the steaming engine. The last stop the engine began to smoke, and steam. We piled out again, watching the cloud of steam billow from the under the seat. Moments later the radiator cap sprung to the roof, followed by a steady geyser of boiling hot water. The 50 people crammed into the back of the bus jumped from every door and window to avoid being soaked. Kelley and I were safe on the outside, but stood staring in awe at the disastrous events laid before us. Our bags were covered in mud. Our once clean bodies, were completely muddied and dusted. We were 45 minutes into our vacation- this pretty much set the tone for the week to come.
Our friend had volunteered to personally drive us 4 hours to Maputo the next day so we could steer clear of public transportation. It was a wonderful drive, although it rained most of the day. There was a hiccup at the border, which delayed us for a couple hours as paperwork was being faxed back and forth, but eventually we made it to Maputo. We rewarded ourselves and our fabulous driver with an epic seafood lunch of prawns, crawfish, fish steak, calamari and chips. It was the most amazing seafood I have ever had, and the “sample platter” we ordered for 4 people was a feast so large we had to push two tables together to fit it. We all ate until we weren’t hungry anymore, and then continued to eat until we felt sick, and still continued to eat until there was nothing but bare plate left on the table. Delicious.
Maputo was a fascinating city- and a proper city too, with tall buildings and a population in the millions. The history of Mozambique has been turbulent in the last few decades, and the effects of civil war have taken their toll on the city of Maputo. Although the war was never in the city at all, the buildings still standing look shell shocked. Beautiful, spanish style rements, crumbling and in decay- its a ghostly place. Maputo is one of the ugliest, and yet most beautiful places I have ever seen. The trash, broken sidewalks and rotting buildings make it seem like you have wandered deep into the ghetto, and then from the rubble a beautiful, bright ornate building will rise on the horizon, and you will find yourself standing in awe at the juxaposition of the two worlds.
We arrived in Maputo just before Christmas, and the rain didn’t let up for the duration of our stay. This combination left the city deserted, and we found ourselves wandering around aimlessly or making friends at the backpackers where we were staying. The holiday also didn’t help us with our funding situation. We had been advised to take out enough rand in Swaziland to pay for our accommodation and then simply take the remainder of our savings out at the ATM in Moz so we could get the best conversion rate. This seemed like a simple enough idea, however the ATM’s had a mind of their own. It took 2 days and at least 20 ATMs to get any money out at all. Between myself and my 2 friends, we were collectively able to take out about a quarter of what we were planning to take out. Sometimes the ATM would simply reject our cards. Sometimes the balance would show it was negative. Or it would show the balance in Rand, but not converted to MZT, which is a 3 to 1 difference. I was the only partial success at the ATM, and this was by hitting a button multiple times to dispense 1000 MZTs at a time, although my balance said 0. We called it our magic money, and hoped I wouldn’t come back to Swaziland in the hole- but at least now we could eat.
Christmas came and went without much event. We stayed in at the backpackers playing “Apples to Apples” (which I won 3 times in a row :), and listened to a local Mozambique music. The next day we were up at 4am to catch the shuttle bus to Tofo- a 7 hour ride.
When we arrived, we wasted no time getting into our “costumes”, as they are called here, and into the ocean. The weather had finally cleared, and was a beautiful sunny day. The sand was perfectly white, the ocean was a welcoming shade of blue- and I was as happy as a clam.
I wish I could write about the events of the 10 day beach vacation, but honestly most of it is a blur. I will stick with the highlights.
- Everyday without fail I was in my swimming suit by 5am
- I slept 2 out of 10 nights ( there was a DJ every night that played till 5am. I danced until the sun came up, and then spent the day sleeping on the beach)
- I slept in a hammock on the beach EVERY day
- we discovered a delicious rum that cost 50MZT (50 MZT= 12 RAND = 2 USD)
- with 3 people sharing the budget of one person, we ate a lot of bread which you could get for 5 MZT
- I worked in the market on the beach a couple of days with my new mozi friend, for “snacks” lol
- 1 day I adopted an 8 year old little girl that was at the beach by herself. We swam, built sand castles, shared lunch. She was my mini me-seriously an 8 year old version of myself.
- I got stung by jellyfish while night swimming
- I found 100MZT on the beach
- I ate whole coconuts and pineapples on the beach everyday
- spent most nights chasing sand crabs- whih were EVERYWHERE
the trip was amazing in every way. Despite the hiccups, and set backs we all managed to have a great time for all 10 days. No drama, no fights, no major injuries- somehow we all made it back to Swaziland in one piece- although exhausted.
Now its officially 2012. The beginning of a new year, and an official “GO” for all my projects in the works. No more vacations, it’s time for business. I’m excited to get started, although apprehensive about the year to come. Several NGO’s currently working in Swaziland are pulling out, or have cut funding this year- leaving some of the projects I have been working with no longer funcitional, or non exsistant. I have even lost my HIV TC, babe Gwebu :*( working to find a new tester for the clinic, or a way to fund babe Gwebu to continue his work in Tikhuba is the first “to-do” on my list. I’ll keep you all posted on how it goes…
until then… HAPPY NEW YEAR!