This week the weather channel predicted more intense rainfall due to a second cyclone off the shores of Mozambique. I am so happy to report that cyclone Funso had a change of heart, and took a more scenic route south east. As I type this, it is a beautiful day on the plateau. The sun is shinning, the sky is a gorgeous vibrant blue dotted with big white puffy clouds. There is a cool breeze blowing my curtains making my homemade Starbucks latte the perfect sipping temperature.
All this sunshine has made for a productive week as well. I am finished laying out a 8 page website for Chasing Horizons, and it will begin to get coded in the coming weeks. This is very exciting. This project has become very close to my heart, and I’m so happy to see it evolve! The web-coder will be a young gentlemen from my community of Tikhuba. This also makes me happy. He has been out of university for over a year and has been unable to find work. Its cool to be able to collaborate with other creative minds in a third world country- and be able to offer them work for that creativity. After all, where would artists be without inspiration from others? As soon as the CH website is up and running, i’ll be sure to post a link here so all of you can gawk with amazement.
It is also great to have a special project that is also a tour company. One of the first big trips for CH will be a road trip to Malawi in August for the international music/arts festival the Lake of Stars. It will be a 2 week trip, up the coast of Mozambique, through Malawi and down through other uncharted territories. I mean really? How awesome is that? I will be on board.
This week was also the beginning of the new school year. I was expecting some delays, like last term, but classes seem to be in full swing. I have started talking with Mr. Mamba the teacher directing the Health Club at the High School, about taking on a new project this year. When I toured the Kagogo center preschools in my area, I noticed a serious lack of supplies and teaching aids. Murals immediately popped into my head, as a great way to ensure teaching aids would be available for years to come, as well as create an inspiring work area for the kids. Keeping in mind the PC philosophy of community members taking the lead on new projects, I thought the preschool project and the Health Club could team up to work this one out. Creating murals would be an excellent project for the High School kids, and would teach them about planning, creating and working together. It would also be something tangible the kids could look at and feel proud of in their community. Besides, who doesn’t like an excuse to paint?
Now that babe Gwebu is back at the clinic (although I still have to talk to him in person), I would really like to continue our efforts to encourage men to get tested at the clinic. Why not more murals? Most the men in my community hang out at 2 places, the store and the RDA (where the pool table is). Hoping the clinic staff would be interested in helping me create some advertisements to encourage men to be an example for their families and get tested for HIV and STI’s regularly. (STI’s are one of the biggest contributing factors to transmitting HIV infections. By catching any STI’s early we can also combat HIV transmission before it’s too late.)
This year will be exciting. As I am officially integrated into my community, and feel at home. I can now look towards helping my neighbors. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted as my crusade continues!
There was a riot yesterday. A fierce, stampede. Chaos at it’s worst. I was safe, but not without a few mishaps.
3 hours before the riot…
I had decided to go on a day trip to Manzini. I have spent a lot of time working on projects from my house in the last few weeks, and I desperately needed a change of scenery- and new jeans. So I found myself on a bus to town. It took 5 stores to find a pair of jeans that would fit and that weren’t frilled with embellishments. I rarely come to town by myself, but it was a good day, speed shopping my way through town and not worrying about a time restraint.
2 hours before the riot…
kieren and I had arranged a meeting to discuss a few missing holes for the Chasing Horizons website. We met at the new MNZ mall, had a few beers and finished up in no time. It was the perfect ending to the day. Just two friends talking, with frosted glasses in hand.
1 hour before the riot…
I felt so happy when I walked back to the bus rank, heading home to Siteki. I have traveled this route many times before, but everything looked so different out my window. The rains from the last few weeks have made the landscape explode with green. The sun was highlighting every tree and every rolling hill for miles around. It looked like a postcard. I contemplate taking a photo, through the window, but know a photo could never capture the vast landscape of Swaziland. Its majestic, and the distance too great. Instead I just watch the mountains pass, and store the vision away in my memory. There is no place as beautiful as Swaziland.
Minutes from the riot…
I arrive in Siteki at 5pm and everything is closing up for the day. There is a scramble near the street as all the bomake flood the sidewalk with their fruits, vegetables and goods. The bus rank is overflowing with people. I forgot it is the end of the month- when everyone gets paid and overtake the town for monthly shopping. I always try to avoid this, it is always chaos, and finding a khombi to go home is often a trying game.
I stand among the other 50 commuters headed towards Tikhuba, inching toward the edge of the crowd so I can get a better view of the entrance to the bus rank. I know that when our khombi rounds that last corner there will be a mad dash, and I want to be prepared.
We wait for 45 minutes, watching other khombis fill with people and leave. We continue standing in our crowd, as it grows larger with every passing minute. I’m contemplating calling a nearby friend to stay with her- it’s not a far walk. The chances of me getting on transport in this crowd is slim- these people are relentless. As I am about to take out my phone to make the call, a large bus rolls up from Manzini. Among the stream of people piling out is my Make. She sees me with a great smile and flings two large bags of headless chickens at my feet. Whenever I see family members in town, they are always leaving me to tend to bags of dead animals… this is a pattern. She looks at me with a look of sheer seriousness and says, “Zethu, when the khombi comes, you must take these bags and run! Run to the bus, and save me a seat! I’ll be right behind you!” ummm? I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get myself on the bus, and now I have to save a seat? Carrying 50 dead chickens? I am about to object to the plan, and she disappears into the crowd. I turn back to my post, keeping look out when a man appears in front of me. He asks me if I’m a peace corps volunteer. He looks like a hobbit. He starts asking me how I feel about all the wars America is in. this is not a conversation I like having, and try to avoid at all costs. He continues anyway. After he tells me how ignorant Americans are and how we like to shoot people, I tune out. I’m starting at his teeth, or what remains of them. They are a pungent yellow brown, jagged and chipped. They look like costume teeth you would wear for halloween, but the rotting smell escaping his lips as he continues his banter tells me they are his. If he didn’t have a goofy smirk on his face, wearing a sweater vest and standing a good foot shorter than me, I would be terrified of these teeth. As I stare, I realize he is asking me something- I wasn’t listening. He gives up and wanders away. Another man appears. “excuse me sisi. Do you have a computer?” “can I help you with something?” I ask, very confused. He needs to write grants he explains, to get funding for a garden project. Why does he need funding for a garden? He grumbles, and then suggests that gardens cost money, and they need a computer with internet to get it. Seeds are free, and anything else for a garden can be bought with profits from the garden, so I’m still confused. He laughs and calls me naive. I decide I don’t have a computer after all. Make appears again. “Zethu! Look at my brothers son.” she points through the crowd and sitting on the back wall of the bus rank is an 8 year old boy, swollen and bandaged. “HOOOW?!” I exclaim. What happened?? She looks at me like that is the strangest question I could ever ask. “ I don’t know.” she mumbles. The last 45minutes have been so confusing. I feel like I’m in a bad dream. Nothing is making sense. This can not be real life.
The crowd begins to shift, and I watch in anticipation. They are forming a line at the other end of the bus rank. A line? Really? I have been adjusting my spot in this crowd for over an hour, and NOW they are forming a line. It takes 3 trips to lug all of make’s chickens to my spot in line, about 20 people ahead of me. I have no idea where make is, and the bus is still nowhere to be seen. I stand my ground, pressed between an old gogo and a young make with a child clinging to her bare breast. I’m smiling, despite the closeness, impressed that there is a line for this khombi, and maybe it won’t result in a ransack when it gets here.
My hopes are misguided. As soon as the bus appears, everyone rushes it. Its like being in the pit at a concert when the main band comes on, and you suddenly find yourself 20 feet closer to the stage, unable to move your arms. I see make at the front of the line, about to board the bus, so I pry myself out of the crowd and move along the outside edges. Clutching my purse and a bag of make’s flour. The conductor on the bus is screaming at the crowd with a feather duster, and hitting people on the head when the pushing becomes too much. The bus is literally teetering on the back two wheels from the pressure of the mob. This is a riot! I am stuck again in the sea of people, but I’m near the door. I’m laughing, even though this really hurts. There is 4 make, trying to get on the bus at the same time, in front of me. One falls off, into the crowd and the other 3 scramble up the stairs, literally crawling on their hands and knees. The driver, who is standing outside the door, trying to scream the people into order, sees me and grabs my shoulder. “come on!” he screams as he pulls me closer to the door. My upper body is moving, but my legs are still firmly planted. I step over a small child- I have no choice, if I fall to the ground, I will be trampled. I am at the door to the bus, but I’m shoulder to shoulder with several older women. I have no idea where my arms are, or how to access them. With a surge of energy, I swing my left arm up, in attempts to grab the railing, but it falls short. Instead it gets caught in the drivers open vest. I can’t get it out. My arm is THROUGH his vest, and out the arm hole. Meanwhile make has seen me from her perch inside the bus. She reaches over the crowd stuck on the stairs and pulls me from my other arm. I am trying to not plow over this old woman in front of me, but make’s pulling isn’t helping. I manage to move my foot to the top step, and and old, toothless man is shoving me back out again. I start screaming, I’m getting pinched in the door. The plastic bag I’m carrying is stuck behind me, and is tearing, and my purse is stuck in the door, with my computer in it. This mob will NOT break my computer. I manage to untangle my arm from inside the drivers shirt, and in doing so, elbow the toothless old man square in the face. I feel like a captive that has untied herself from her bonds, and in a couple power-filled moments I have somehow managed to make it to the top of the stairs and onto the bus. The conductor at the top tells me “good job!” and we do a little fist pound to celebrate. Make is sitting in the front row and has managed, somehow, to save me a seat behind her. I sit, and watch the commotion continue, until we are all on the small bus. About 50 people squeezed together, on this 14 seater bus. I am still laughing. I have been to industrial heavy metal concerts less scary than the events of getting on this bus. I was less bruised in the roller derby, and at least then I had a helmet!
When everyone has settled, the bus begins to head towards home. This was insane. My first riot in Swaziland.