On Wednesday, March 21st, I said goodbye to Johannesburg and the awesome volunteers destined for Lesotho, and made my way to Matsapha, Swaziland, courtesy of the 30-seater Swaziland Airlink – a carrier banned in the EU. The flight over gave welcoming views of Swazi’s green, rocky mountains and the eZulwini valley, where I will be residing for the next 2 years.
I was to spend the next four days doing an In Country Orientation Program (ICOP) under the guidance of my fearless, funky and beautiful In-Country Manager, Lusanda. The ICOP usually consists of a tour of the region, meeting work colleagues and other AVIs, health briefing, security briefing, cultural and language training, shopping and, finally, moving into my accommodation.
My ICOP did consist of all these things, albeit in a slightly different manner than anticipated. My ICOP coincided with a visit from Australia’s Special Envoy to Africa, Bob McMullen, and the Australian High Commissioner for South Africa, HE Ms Ann Harrap. Given that AVIs form the bulk of Australians in Swaziland, my fearless Country Manager was requested to accompany the envoy during their whirlwind tour of the nation, and as I was “attached” to my Country Manager for my ICOP, I was to accompany them also.
Yes, I was told to expect the unexpected in Africa, and I certainly did not expect to be whizzing down the highways of Swaziland accompanied by a police escort while chatting to a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on my way to meet my fellow volunteers – at least not during my first week. Nor did I expect to have Drivers / Bodyguards milling about the breakfast table while I shovelled down some eggs and toast chatting to the First Secretary.
Despite the ostentatious ceremony around it all (which, incidentally, was not requested by Australia), it was a very proud feeling to discover your local High Commissioner and Special Envoy reps still possess that down-to-earth Aussie nature. Hearing them refer to everyone as “mate” in their ocker Aussie accents, talking so candidly with them about politics and African life, and being invited to drop by for a beer whenever I’m in Pretoria, reminded me why I love Australia.
As I reminisce on my whirlwind induction, with its crazy blend of Swazi cultural orientation and the comfort of an Australian presence, I can’t help but feel so lucky to be a part of two truly amazing worlds.