Count to four: Hike, Fire, Dry Fear.

Hike.

Swazis don’t hike.  This explains why I was so entertained by the recent ascension of 4,500 Swazis up the world’s second biggest rock.  Sibebe Survivor is an annual event that raises funds for Rotary’s projects in Swaziland.  In the past, Rotary has supported some of Gone Rural boMake’s sanitation projects in Lavumisa, so it was only reasonable that some of my colleagues and I joined in the event.

Of course, none of my Swazi colleagues had hiked before, so when they stepped out of the car in jeans, denim shorts with stockings, glittery jewellery, and make up, I knew it was going to be an entertaining day.  The fashion fun continued on the slope, as one (very drunk) man in a leopard-print muscle Tee complimented passersby on their svelte figures.  Footwear for the day ranged from flip flops to diamante encrusted flats, although I was sad not to see any of the trademark Swazi killer heels.

The amusement for the day was not just in clothing.  While Tanele complained of being tired even before she had begun the walk (and the entire way through), her cousin’s complaints centred more on Chris’ apparent preference to only photograph one person – Tanele.  To the boMake team’s credit, they all made it to the top without stopping, unlike many other Swazis who were found sprawled alongside the path merely metres in.

While I mock the participants in jest, the day was an absolute blast.  It was so refreshing to be in the absolute minority, and to see Swazis take up the Sibebe Survivor spirit.

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Fire.

It’s about this time of the year that the African sunset is the most stunning.  Credit for this must go to the heavy cloud of smoke that fills the air, accentuating the sun’s orange glow and causing respiratory aggravation nationwide.  Yes, it’s fire season.  While the Australians reading this are probably quivering with fear at the thought, it has become apparent that we’re the only ones.

It starts around May, when entire sugar cane fields are set alight to burn off the excess greenery before carting the stalks to the refinery.  With my office situated on a sugar cane farm, I was ready to soil myself when I first saw the billowing cloud of black smoke, heard the deafening crackle, smelt the burning sugar molasses, and felt the ash covering my desk.  That was until I looked out the window and saw all the locals casually yarning and having a smoke next to the blazing inferno.

Now that it’s the end of winter, it’s time for bushland to get the same treatment.  Swazis seem to think nothing of setting fire to dry grass and oily eucalypts on a 30+oC day, with 25 knot winds, 10 metres from a thatched roof homestead.  Oh, and then leaving it to burn, unattended.  Let’s not forget that many of these homesteads have no water supply to help fight a fire, and as for the country’s fire department, consider it grotesquely underfunded (to put it mildly).  Despite all rational thinking, fire related casualties seem extraordinarily low.  When I ask Swazis how this can be, they respond with a nonchalant confidence: “It just burns out before that happens”.

With physics defied and Swazis convinced I’m a hypochondriac, all that’s left to do is sit back, watch the pretty lights on the horizon, and smile nervously.

Burning off_Malkerns

Dry Fear.

While fires are what Aussies fear, it seems a pub with no beer is what scares the Swazis.  Actually, make that a nation with no beer.  A week ago, Swaziland United Breweries posted a public announcement that there would be a nationwide shortage of three brands of beer for the next two weeks.  Besides the fact that other beer brands would still be available, along with other types of alcoholic beverages, the nation’s sensationalist media instantly jumped on the story.  The result has been a fascinating outpouring of public concern, and a frenzy of beer consumption.  Unsurprisingly, a second source of beer has come to the nation’s rescue, but not before one of our members of public had this to say:  “This is not fair because alcohol makes some of us forget all our problems and also makes us sleep well.  Instead of opting to commit crimes, we drink alcohol”.  Thanks TKZee Dube, you have enlightened me.

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