Malandela’s. Swaziland’s premiere entertainment venue, and home to a nightclub, bar, restaurant, cafe, B&B, farm…..and my workplace. As I get off the Kombi each morning, I head straight to Gone Rural offices, a double storey building with the business side of Gone Rural downstairs and my office upstairs. As I wander up the stairs, I look out over the sugarcane field in the distance, the smoke rising from the chimneys of the vats where grass is dyed, and the coloured grasses drying on the racks beneath me.
My workspace is shared with more than a dozen others. Five of the people are boMake staff, including myself, although I’m the only one with my own desk – talk about privileges! The remainder are the “specialist team”. Zinhle, Jabu, Lindiwe and the other ladies are among the hardest working people I’ve ever seen, and are responsible for special orders, trialling new product designs, and making up order shortfalls. They also provide the never-ending sound of laughter (I just wish I knew what they were laughing about!), and have welcomed me into their space with open arms. I am in love with them already.
Come 10:30am, they whisk me away to the tea room downstairs, where we share a cuppa, eat copious amounts of bread and jam (explains the high rates of diabetes), and laugh even more (about something). Swazis really like to laugh!
Then it’s back to the office where I spend these early days in my placement researching and developing a project plan, or out visiting different organisations. I’m also in the fortunate position of being able to spend as many days as I choose out in the rural areas getting to know our 13 groups of artisans, so it’s a great mix of everything I love.
As lunchtime approaches, the ladies disappear to the tearoom again, where I hear the melodic sounds of singing emanating as they gather to pray. Fortunately, the singing sometimes continues upstairs and provides an incredibly relaxing ambience, which can be bliss when 3:30-itis hits.
My lunchbreak, however, is usually spent at Malandela’s. As I wander over there, I pass first by “House on Fire”, the nightclub part of the complex. Described by Lonely Planet as “a fantastically decorated experimental performance space – hosting everything from African theatre to raves”, it seriously looks like it belongs in Byron Bay and provides Swazis and foreigners with their fix of live music.
Then it’s past the Gone Rural shop to Malandela’s restaurant and cafe. Here I eat my lunch while lounging on the grass and admiring the view over the adjoining sugarcane farm. “Mallies” is more than just a great lunch spot, though. It also happens to be my saviour when in need of a decent caffeine fix, it provides a superb meeting space when the office is full (which is conveniently often), and has a small bar that helps to welcome in the weekend on a Friday afternoon.
I know they say that volunteering in foreign countries is extremely difficult, and I know my challenges will come, but with all this at my fingertips, I don’t think I could have found a more perfect place to work if I’d tried. J