Despite a day of sunshine, rain persisted throughout all last week, even shedding a storm of hail on Thursday night, which I awoke to thinking the house was on fire. As with Michelle’s departure a couple of weeks ago, I think Swaziland was crying for Julie’s departure this week – glad to know I’m not the only one who gets sad when awesome, fellow Aussies leave.
We held a farewell dinner for Julie on Friday night with 30-odd of her closest Swazi-residing friends. Apart from piles of amazing home-cooked food, there was a fantastic atmosphere brought about by having 30 people from different corners of the globe and from different backgrounds, mingling and exchanging numbers over a common, human bond.
The following morning, I bid Julie a tearful farewell and headed to Jo’burg for a weekend of fun before the Australian Volunteers International Country Meeting (ICM). It gave me a perfect opportunity to put a face to the facebook names, and indulge in some Jo’burg civilisation. I spent Saturday morning enjoying a coffee with some of the Lesotho crew, then headed to Braamfontein to check out some art galleries and the Neighbour Goods Market in the afternoon. I felt like a vegan in a vegie patch, as I wandered past the jazz buskers and up to the carpark-come-weekend marketplace, which housed stall upon stall of freshly cooked whole foods, pastries, homemade cheese, cupcakes etc.
This was followed up nicely by happy hour drinks with the vollies, before enjoying dinner, more hail and a selection of vodka shots with a small group at Mish Mash restaurant, somewhere in Jo’burg. The next day, one of the locals took a bunch of us for an expedition downtown. A traditionally dodgy ‘hood, downtown is slowly undergoing some urban renewal thanks to young social entrepreneurs, and Arts on Main is one example of that investment. Much like the Neighbour Goods Market, Arts on Main is a warehouse converted into a marketplace of freshly-prepared wholesome meals and desserts, with rooftop bar and random salsa dancers. Needless to say, we spent the afternoon making the most of vegan soy-bread burgers and cold ‘slow’ beer as we basked in the glimpse of sunshine, and enjoyed a glimpse of some good-looking men.
A quick scotch and dry on John’s patio, and we were off to Indaba Hotel in the afternoon, where we would spend the next 3.5 days as part of the ICM. Those 3.5 days equated to 11 three-course buffet meals, six between-meal “snacks”, several litres of alcohol in various forms (Lesotho Edgetrimmers anyone?), a few extra kilos of weight, a couple of runs to try and shed the weight, 3.5 days of non-stop laughs, and a distinct lack of sleep. Oh, and three days of meetings.
Fodder for some of those laughs included the porter’s assistance to our rooms by golf buggy, where he refused to let the others off so that he could take them the extra 3m to the room next door; as well as a trip to the local Montecasino for dinner and drinks. As if casinos couldn’t get worse, Montecasino upped the ante by designing the interior like a European cobble-stoned village with a roof painted and lit up to look like a sunny day’s sky. Drinks were definitely called for to douse the incongruous setting, which saw us getting home around 3am after one of us displayed fantastic swimming moves on the table, and everyone thought frozen pee was a sight worth seeing in the men’s urinal.
I returned home to Swaziland on Thursday and headed straight into work where I was greeted by hugs from all my workmates and exclamations of how much they’d missed me (quickly followed by questions about what sweets I’d brought them). This last week has made me feel in the midst of an absolute love fest, and I know that I am top-to-bottom surrounded by seriously awesome peeps, made all the more awesome by the fact that they think I’m an awesome peep too. Awesome.