After the excitement of our own wedding, it was time to head to Swaziland to introduce Manyoni to the country that stole my heart before he did.
We were welcomed by rain, which continued the whole week. People assured me that this was a good thing, as the country – and all of South Africa – is suffering the worst drought in almost 40 years. I won’t disagree, except that I had planned – and packed – for summer. I was freezing!
Wednesday – 9th Nov
Our first day was spent in the valley of heaven, catching up with the Gone Rural crew. It was so great to see so many wonderful faces again, and to breathe in the familiar smell of lutindzi grass. However there have also been so many changes that I didn’t recognise anyone at my old office. Change is good, right?
Next it was lunch at the Shisa Nyama, where Louise and I tucked into Mahlanya’s best BBQ meat (because of copious amounts of salt, MSG and oil), while Manyoni settled with umbidvo, litsanga and chakalaka.
A quick visit to another friend, Babazile, then we were back on the bus to Mbabane and off to the Albert Millin for drinks with Yael. We made it back to our temporary abode just as one of Swaziland’s famous lightning storms was about to hit.
Thursday – 10th Nov
Day two was spent around Mbabane. Like true tourists, we headed up to the Old Ngwenya Mine – the oldest known mine in the world, where ancestors of the San mined hematite around 43,000 years ago. It has had more recent mining attempts too. There were the bantu-speaking settlers who mined hematite and iron for tools from 450AD to 1950. Then commercial interests came in and dug some more holes in the ground from 1964 to 1977. Finally, a questionable deal between the King and Salgaocar resulted in more iron mining during my time, which finally ended the year I left.
Interestingly, I never made it to the mine while I lived here so this was a first for us. The views from there are truly beautiful and showcase Swaziland’s fantastic topography. The all-encasing fog didn’t hurt in adding some mystique.
With frozen fingers and toes, we continued down the hill to Ngwenya Glass, where we spent the obligatory several hours salivating over Swaziland’s beautiful fair trade handicrafts. If only the airlines gave us more baggage allowance!
The afternoon was spent in the warmth of our temporary abode, cooking up a pizza storm for our hostess with the mostest, Helene, and an opportune catch-up with few other Mbabane friends – Chantal, Tony, Yael and Shaks.
Friday – 11th Nov
On the third day, it was yet another trip down to the valley to catch-up with Carlie, and take a stickybeak at more crafts at Swazi Candles. Poor Manyoni must have been sick of being dragged around to all my friends and a seemingly endless handicraft industry, but he took it very well.
A concern with our borrowed car took us back to the mechanic in Mbabane, but after being given the all clear, we were off again down the hill and all the way to Manzini. Here, we finally caught up with Ras Ambrose – a friend of a friend, and rasta brotherman of Africa. Our afternoon was spent helping Ambrose and his band sort out a rental car for the next day, so conversations about the Swazi rasta community were held in between driving from shop to house to house to shop.
The evening ended back where my time in Swaziland began – Malandela’s for Friday night drinks. Here, I finally got to meet up with my beautiful Gone Rural ladies after 2 long years of being apart. Just as nice was that all the staff at Mallies not only remembered me, but were also really happy to see me. These are the things that make you feel loved and at home. These are the reasons why Swaziland is so special to me.
Saturday – 12th Nov
Today was the raison d’etre for our side-trip trip to Swaziland – Shelley’s long-awaited wedding to Rob.
For those that don’t know / remember, Shelley was my boss, friend and role-model while I worked at BoMake – although she won’t admit to some of those titles. I felt so excited to be able to share this day with her, and with all my Swazi sisters.
After 12 years of waiting and planning, I don’t think the day could have been any more perfect for the beautiful pair. After non-stop rain all week, the day churned out nothing but blue skies and sunshine – proof of God’s work, some might say.
Shelley looked stunning as she danced down the aisle with her father, preceded by dancing bridesmaids in brilliant blue. A small group of our Gone Rural ladies provided the song and dance backdrop during the signing, and their children finished the ceremony off with a fantastic poem filled with love and comedy.
After the official part was over, we were invited to House on Fire for cocktails and photos. Then it was on to another tent for the reception. Everything was done to perfection – which is nothing less than what I would expect from Shelley and the House on Fire team. More than that, everything was done with consideration and meaning – which is really what made the day so great. Needless to say, when all was over, there were a number of hours spent carving up the d-floor.
As soon as the wedding ended, and we were moved to House on Fire to continue the party, the rains returned with gusto. The timing was so perfect that it would, once again, be hard to doubt the power of God.
My heart is just filled with so much love for these two, and I feel so privileged to know them and to be able to share this moment with them. A never-ending congratulations and best wishes to Mr and Mrs Kirk.
Sunday – 13th Nov
Sure as ever, the fog returned the next day and set in harder than ever. We had planned to join Waterford students on a hike to Malolotja Falls. The miserable weather almost put us off, but we persisted in a delusional hope that it would clear up. In the end, it was us, a few teachers and 20 students brave enough to tackle the wild foggy unknown.
Malolotja has always been one of my favourite places in Swaziland. Regardless of the weather, it is always magical and today was no exception. As we drove through the gates, we spotted baby Lesbok suckling from their mothers. As we continued through, the wildflowers were out in bloom, providing a splash of colour against the misty backdrop. Really, it was only when we got out of the bus and started walking that the beauty and diversity of the flora could really be witnessed.
As with all trips to Malolotja, it didn’t take long before we were lost. Trying to find the right path, we scrambled down steep hills, and back up again, dodging falling rocks and trying hard not to re-sprain/re-break ankles on the uneven surface. Yet we survived and managed to reconnect to the path at the falls’ lookout. The Gods gave us five minutes of clear skies, allowing us to take some photos of the rugged cliffs, rolling mountains and falls into the distance, before closing back in and pushing us on our way.
By this stage, it was too late to continue on down to the falls itself, so we just headed back toward the bus with a lunch stop along the way. Arriving home, we were drenched, freezing, exhausted and at peace. What a great way to end our Swaziland experience.
Monday – 14th Nov
After a quick catch-up with my good friend, Victor, we were on our way to South Africa and the inevitable journey back to Solomons. Before that, however, we had six hours to kill in Johannesburg.
As we arrived at the international airport, in the most amazing timing ever, Shelley happened to also be walking out of the airport. You wouldn’t believe it, but her plan was to take her friend to Soweto for a few hours, which was exactly the plan that we had! So we were able to join forces and check out Mandela’s residence, the outside of Desmond Tutu’s residence, the Hector Pieterson museum, and feast on our final pap lunch together.
As Shelley and Shawna headed back to the airport, Manyoni and I carried on to Braamfontein to catch up with my friend Marnell, and go on a mad search for a specific jumper (don’t ask!). Finally, it was time for us to go back to the airport too and embark upon a 17 hour journey to Brisbane.
Wednesday – 16th Nov
With just a day to spare in Brisbane, the time was spent with family. My eldest sister and her children had made the trip to Brisbane to help celebrate my other sister’s 40th birthday. It was the first time the whole family was together in 4 years, and the first time that many of them had met Manyoni. Naturally, all the children had grown a ridiculous amount since I last saw them, but fortunately not all of them had forgotten Aunty Isabel. The understated birthday celebrations were also joined by my Aunt and Uncle, so it was a great little gathering.
Sadly, all good things must come to end, so it was time to return to Solomons and work.