Sometimes I have to shake my head and laugh at the life that I seem to be living in Africa. Sometimes it just seems so diverse, random and surreal.
On Wednesday, I received a message from a friend of a friend’s friend letting me know that they would be heading into Swaziland the next day if I wanted to catch up. Introducing Anouk, a 23 year old Dutch/American who is spending the next year travelling around Africa by herself, and who will be my couch surfer for the next week or so.
On Friday, I decided to ditch the white man’s bar and check out my local – Ka-Lohheya – where I had only been once before, on a weeknight. When I told my Swazi work colleagues where I was going, they laughed at me, and emphasised that I was crazy (oh, and to watch my wallet). In all honesty, after that introduction, I was almost disappointed by how chilled and sedate the atmosphere was. Beers were cheap, the rat-catchers (cats) were cute and numerous, the braai smelled fantastic and no-one bothered us. Rather than being a dangerous drunken hovel, I think it actually qualifies to become a regular Friday after-work hangout.
Saturday morning I woke up to light drizzle at 5:30am and headed out for a bike ride with a small group from the cycle club. Fortunately, they decided to splinter into two groups: the 106km sprint ride, or the 44km warm-up ride (I’ll leave you guessing as to which group I stuck with). Naturally, all riders joined up for coffee and breakfast afterwards. I’m still to decide whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the time spent eating and drinking afterwards was actually longer than the ride itself.
That afternoon, I took my couchsurfer up to see Ngwenya Glass Factory, before rushing back to attend the Rural to Ramp Handicraft Showcase. Admittedly, I never pictured my African volunteer experience to involve front row seats at a designer fashion show. Nor did I expect a Swazi fashion to be of such a world-class standard that, now, any pictures I see of Paris and Milan fashion week seem rather lacklustre and lacking in creativity. Based on the “oohs” and “aahs”, dropped jaws and goosebumps of those around me on the night, I’d say I’m not alone in these thoughts. What’s more, all the designs on the night were Fair Trade, made by local men and women supporting, on average, 6 dependents. Even more interesting is the eco-consciousness of it all, with some fashions made from recycled paper (Quazi Design), recycled tetrapacks (Pachimana) and Gone Rural’s made from leftover homewares – placemats never looked this good!
With the excitement of the handicraft showcase behind us, the night begged for an after-party. Fortunately, there just happened to be Halloween one in Mbabane at a guy’s place that I didn’t know, only 45 minutes and one long unintentional detour away. The party really took me back to my Uni days, complete with Flam-bong-o (Yes, a flamingo-shaped beer bong), shots from syringes, vodka jelly with gummy bears, and a huge dancefloor led by a local DJ who seemed to have an obsession with South Africa’s Zahara. The crowd came in all sorts of outfits, sizes, ages and drunken levels, which kept me entertained until 2am.
I managed to sneak in 3.5 hours sleep before I was up again to do a rainy, slippery, muddy 10km hike up Sheba’s Breast, all in the name of Breast Cancer. We couldn’t see the peak for the clouds when we departed, and couldn’t see the views for the clouds when at the top, but I did get to see some baby monkeys. The organisers even arranged for a 1 hour aerobics class at the finish line, in case a 10km climb wasn’t enough.
That afternoon, it was back into Swazi life as I visited a friend at her homestead. I managed to get my car through the boggy, eroded path and spent a couple of hours chatting about life and nasty white people, storms and disappearing rooves.
From new friends to new pubs, cycles to hikes, fashion shows to homestead visits, this weekend definitely left me shaking my head and laughing.