I started Siswati lessons at work this afternoon. TechnoServe is sponsoring a class for the staff, which will be held in our conference room twice a week. Learning the language seems a step below impossible right now, but the class itself was fun and it’ll be helpful to at least pick up the basics, like “sawabona mkhulu,” or hello.
This past Saturday I went on an overnight to Mkhaya, a game reserve about 90 minutes southeast of Mbabane. There was a group of eight going in two cars – mainly TechnoServe folks, and two others – and we timed the drive to coincide with the Swaziland World Cup qualifier soccer match. Kick-off was at 2pm, and we were expected at the park by 4. The plan was to drive to a small town about 10km away from the park to watch the second half. We’d be able to watch the second half of the game and get to the reserve on time.
The plan was working beautifully until about 3:30, when we were all at a bar and I stuck my hands into my pockets and couldn’t find the key for the TNS car we were using. (I’ve moved from novice to pro driver in a matter of days.) I looked all over before realizing that I must have accidentally put them in the trunk in place of my apartment keys, which were still in my jeans. We were due at the park at 4pm sharp, and this wasn’t exactly the type of town that a tow truck could get to in 15 minutes. Neil, a TNS volunteer who had put down a non-refundable deposit on his credit card, was starting to get nervous.
The bar that we had stopped at was in a small mall on the side of the road. We weren’t thrilled about leaving our car there while we went inside the bar to watch the soccer game, and I definitely wasn’t excited about leaving the car there –with all of our bags locked in the trunk – overnight. I asked for someone’s help at the mall, and very quickly about a dozen Swazis had surrounded the car.
My group and I found some wire hangers, a mop stick, some metal rods and a few other things lying around the parking lot and got to work. It took a while for the Swazis to grasp the situation. About six times I was asked how come I wouldn’t just use the keys to get inside, or I was asked where the keys were. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in helping, but – albeit rather comfortingly – after 15 minutes nobody was able to get close to unlocking the car. The effort was not lacking, but nobody seemed to know what to do.
I remembered being in the same situation about 4 years ago, when I locked myself out of the car while going to the U.S. Open in Queens with my friend Nathaniel, and I had watched AAA open my dad’s station wagon in about thirty seconds. I found a crowbar at the mall, and Paul located a bendable metal stick, and – while we weren’t as quick as AAA – we got in fast enough to get to the game park only five minutes late. The worst part – besides for a couple of small crowbar dents on the car – was that Swaziland lost the match on a penalty kick goal in the 89th minute.
I got a couple of jokes that night (on being late for dinner, “What the matter, Marc? Locked out of your open air tent?”), but nothing that I couldn’t handle. It’s a much better story being the new guy in town and everything working out, than being the new guy, ruining everyone’s trip. and blowing their deposit from being a bit absentminded.
The park itself was pretty fantastic. We dropped our cars at the entrance and drove out to our camp in open-air vehicles driven by a ranger. Along the way we stopped to watch giraffes (my favorite), rhinos, and impala (a type of antelope). The zebras and hippos would have to wait until the next morning, and the elephants (only 15 of them in a 5000 hectacre park) unfortunately weren’t to be found.
Got back into town in the early afternoon and spent the afternoon running some errands before an ultimate game and a viewing of a Swaziland documentary that someone had rummaged up. The film, Today the Hawk Took One from the Nest, was about the HIV situation in a rural part of Swaziland and painted an ugly picture of the crisis, it’s affect on the homesteads and families, and the efforts to educate the population and get people tested. It was really sad and interesting, and gave some insight into the Swaziland I’ve yet to see.
The coming week should be fun. I’m travelling out to one of the big sugarcane mills this Friday, there’s a concert this weekend for some Brazilian band at the biggest club in town, and then on Sunday I was invited by a local Swazi at TNS to head out into the countryside with him to watch some traditional dances.