George and I drove out of Siteki, towards the border of Mozambique in the late morning.. The car was warm from the brightly burning African sun, and I welcomed the feeling of sun-rays on my skin, contradicting the chilly breeze blowing through the open windows. The roads from Siteki where usually barren, a consequence of the strong military and police presence that has been in the major cities since April 11th, due to threats of protests. Army convoys rolled passed, armored, and decorated with soldiers in fatigues carrying their signature AK-47’s. The newspaper headlines have been boasting about the forthcoming protests expected to begin on April 12th, for weeks, but the day has come and gone without any reproach. Leaving the roads on my treasure map, deserted and unblocked.
Ironically the mysteries of the internet have ignited this treasure hunt. This blog in fact. People from all over the globe read my blog; some people I haven’t even met- people that stumble upon my life stories from the bush and for some reason keep reading. One particular person happened upon my blog when doing research for his book about a solider who lived in Siteki during the early 1900’s. He has since, requested my help with additional research, as I am just a few miles away from Siteki, and he is in New Zealand.
I am armed with my google satellite maps, and a collection of exchanged emails with questions, mystery locations, names of ghosts from the past and a few scribbled notes in the margins. We are half way to the border, searching for unmarked roads, leading deep into unfamiliar bush, looking for something we are not confident we can identify if we found it. We are pirates on a quest.
We take the only right turn off the main road, and hope that the hand scrawled arrow drawn on the map is where we will end up. We are searching for the remains of the Dupoint farm- you may remember this jem of a pioneer from my blog on the history of Siteki. Driving down the dirt road, we are scanning the tall grass for signs of life, or abandoned life from another century. Driving for 10 minutes and nothing can be seen. 20 minutes, we scan the endless miles of empty mountainsides. We decide to take a turn down some beaten tracks in the grass. The car is low- this will not be an off roading expedition, so we continue on foot. 20 minutes, following tire tracks through an empty field, on the top of a large hill. The view is amazing and I can’t imagine anywhere else in the world where you can see this far in every direction and see nothing but nature. But we are still left wanting, so we return to the car.
We continue, 5 more minutes, 10 more minutes. I say one more hill, George says, lets just do one more after that… we continue on. Then out of no where, for the first time in an hour, a car passes. It feels like we have spotted Moby Dick. We stare at it curiously as it passes, and they stare back. Over the horizon a small village appears, and people can be seen tending to the fields, brightly colored clotheslines blowing in the breeze, silhouettes of cattle down the road. It had appeared like a lost city.
This little village is bustling with activity. School children are gathered at the side of the road watching us drive by. I can’t help thinking we will be the talk of the town for weeks to come- “who are these strangers? How did they find us?” We carry on, still looking for a bit of history to let us know we are on the right track. Its looking hopeless, so we stop to ask a young boy if he knows where the Dupoint house is located. He shyly greets us, keeping his eyes fixed on his fist full of grasshoppers as he is plucks their little legs off. We see another young woman walking down the road ahead and try our luck with her.
George is speaking in Siswati as I sit in the passenger seat, trying to figure out if this jumble of words is good news- then she hops in the backseat. She knows the house and apparently a Make and Gogo are still living there. This is amazing news! Although I wasn’t prepared to talk to anyone today, and I’m a little lost on what information I’m looking for myself- I just wanted a picture of some ruble. The girl directs us down a narrow path, too narrow for the car, so we all pile out and follow her the rest of the way on foot.
When we arrive at the homestead, my heart immediately sinks. Stick and stone shanties clinging to the side of a great mountain side. It looks as if a strong sneeze could send these houses straight off the cliff and into the deep valley at the edge of the yard. The young girl enters the small round hut and greets the gogo- we follow behind her, ducking as we enter the low doorway. An old woman is laying on the dirt floor, covered by several large blankets. She is tiny and frail; I can see every bone in her shaky, outstretched arm as I shake her hand. My heart breaks as I stand over this poor woman, laying in the dirt, in a doorless shack. She barely speaks, and our young guide exits the hut to find the Make of the house. We stand outside, left to stare off at this epic view and mend our hearts, sore with guilt of entitled lives. We leave shortly after meeting the Make, who has no information. Everyone agrees this is the site of the Dupoints, but the history has been rewritten.
On the drive back to the main road, we are silent. The treasure hunt is done for the day. No treasure was found, just a reminder of what to be grateful for. At the highway, a solider stopped us at a road block. He was curious, as all Swazi’s seem to be, about where we were going, and where we came from. George spoke to him for several minutes in Siswati, showing him our maps, and emails. The solider nodded his head, pointed this direction and that. As we drove off, George says he knew where everything was located, and will help us carry on with our mission in a couple weeks. I laugh out loud- of course he does. Its been a strange day, and I’m ready to head home- treasure hunting will have to be continued another weekend.