Everyday in Swaziland is an eye-opener for me, with new smells, sights and sounds. Yet, I have received so many request from people wanting to know about my mundane day-to-day activities, so here goes.
My day starts at 6:45am, when I jump (ha ha) out of bed, take in the mountain view and proceed to make myself a breakfast of home-made muesli. As I leave the house, I sing out “Sanibonani” to the wonderful women (Mavis, Dudu and Louise) who clean my room and make my bed every single day, and I trudge down the long, steep driveway to the main road to wait for my khombi ride to work.
It is not common for a “whitey” to make use of public transport in Swaziland. White Swazis and expats tend to make a priority of owning a vehicle (often a 4×4), and I have often been asked how I possibly manage to put up with kombis. The answer is this: simple.
The kombi system is very simple. They are nothing more than your typical 12-seater van, in various states of disrepair (much like a Wicked van). Their routes are written on the front of the van in teeny, weeny letters, meaning you easily know where they’re going but don’t find out until they’re passing you. However, Swazis have developed a wonderful system of pointing in the general direction they want to go, and the drivers seem to accurately interpret this. A huge bonus is that they pick you up and drop you off right at your door, so no walking to the bus stop. The downside is that because there are no bus stops, there are no bus shelters to protect you from the rain. Rarely will you be waiting long for a kombi, though, as they come fairly frequently – anywhere from every 30 seconds to every 20 minutes depending on the destination and time of day. Plus, they only operate in daylight hours so no option for night time ventures.
Okay, so the system may not be as straightforward as I first suggested, but it doesn’t take long to figure out, and once you have found a good van, by golly you stick with it! I have been fortunate to find a kombi of very good quality, who know to stop for me and get very upset if I’m not there. Each day’s trip still has its own surprises, though. Will it be gospel music, African rhythm, or R&B blaring from the radio? Will I end up squished in the back seat in the back corner, or will I be lucky to get one closer to the door so that I don’t have to shove my butt and bags into everyone’s face as I try to get out? Will I get school kids who stare at me because they’re too afraid to talk, cute babies who can’t stop waving, or chatty men hoping to secure another wife?
The real highlight of the trip, though, is getting a glimpse into real Swazi life. I love passing by the women carrying baskets and suitcases on their heads and children on their backs, the “Spaza Phone” stalls (pay phones), people in their bright yellow MTN vests selling phone credit, or the dozens of sellers sitting behind stacks of fruit and veg at Mahlanya markets. Then there’s the lopsided and dilapidated wooden stall standing all alone in front of the King’s maize patch, optimistically advertising haircuts, but operating more as a corner store instead (he’s my favourite!).
Of course, there are also days where the sad reality of Swaziland hits, and I know that, theoretically, I am sharing a van with eight people who live below the poverty line, five HIV positive people and three active TB sufferers.
As I reach my destination and yell “Sitesh” to the driver, I hand over my 6 Emalangeni (~AUD$0.75) and take a good look at the sugarcane fields and entertainment complex where I work contemplating the disparity that exists in such a small country.