Despite the geographical closeness, and practically daily use of the South African Rand, it’s been easy to forget that Swaziland is nearly surrounded by another country.
To be honest, I harbored a lot of anxiety for my trip pretty much until I arrived miraculously at the King Shaka Airport where I met one of my dearest friends. I had planned literally all I could plan. There’s no phone book, directory or any sort of established timetable for Khumbis. It is the pefect example of organized chaos. There isn’t an ounce of predictability in the system, except for the fact that khumbis always return to the same place. Khumbis: The boomerang of public transport. With that in mind, I knew that all I needed to do was to place one foot in the Manzini Busrank and the rest would simply fall into place. It’s essentially impossible for you to end up on the wrong khumbi/headed to the wrong place. I’ll try to paint a picture for you.
The Manzini busrank was the most dreded and terrifying, nearly mythical place during PST. Mainly because Manzini is the most heavily trodden city in Swaziland (okay… I may be speculating, but am 99.9% sure of that truth). The rank is probably the size of 4 or 5 football fields strewn across a mass of overcrowded parkinglots. Organized because the buses are in one area, khumbis are arranged by location being traveled to, and there’s even a section for international transport. Chaotic because if you blink any number of things could happen… such as potentially being run over, or finding yourself snared into a 5 minute cameo in Let’s hit on her! Swazilands most popular reality TV series, (which would actually be rather interesting to watch… if the show were created ironically…). After a few trips you’ll become a pro at weaving through buses, khumbis, vendors and people, allthewhile handling the rank with as much grace as movie characters in NYC hailing a cab. Completely effortless, cue the perfect breeze to gently play with wisps of your hair, and superbly functioning breakpads. Pro status achieved when you arrive at your vehicle of choice with some fruit swiftly purchased from a Make. There’s always time for a snack. Always.
The process is either made easier or difficult by the number of men dispersed throughout the rank who’s sole purpose for being there is getting people where they need to be. Beyond the honking, and relative noises of being in a city, your ears will be filed with a chorus of “MbabaneMbabaneMbabane! Mbabane?” interspersed with whistles and the names of dozens of other places that one might be traveling to. Given my paler complextion, it tends to be assumed that Mbabane is my destination. Having moved past being an amateur, however, it takes a second of eye contact and blurting out where I’m going to redirect all enthusiasm away from Mbabane. That is how I found the khumbis headed to Durban. So far, so planned. (We have reached the end of all I could plan for).
Having been in my Swazi bubble now for nearly 8 months, a quick trip outside the country pinpointed the things I had become used to. It did not occur to me, that two hours away in South Africa, my hopping on a khumbi (or public transport---essentially the ONLY means of getting around Swaziland) would cause utmost panic in the people I was staying with in Durban. It also didn’t occur to me that what I find to be the most reliable and easiest form of transport would so shock someone that a free planeride home was offered to me instead. Oh no, I was not in Kansas anymore. I would just like to note that this is merely a synopsis of the challenges I ran into while on my brief but incredible vacation. The focus on public transport is because that was the one thing I was absolutely sure of, which also turned out to be my biggest cross-cultural obstacle. I pretty much was in a dream the entire time I was in Durban. The food, the imagry, amazing company… It was much needed and there is no good way to express my gratitude for such magnificent hospitality. The transport situation merely provided a glimpse of a larger reality that isn’t necessarily relevant (prevelant?) in such a homogenous country like Swaziland. I will say, it was the first time in 8 months that I went a day (and then days!) without being hit on, proposed to or feeling like 30 sets of eyes were on me at any one time. I was temporarily displaced from my fishbowl, and it was refreshing.
My mini-vacation consisted of consuming waaay to much food, attending a rugby match, GO SHARKS! Eating finger sandwiches and drink tea in a decadent hall, dipping my feet in the ocean and not feeling like I had to rush through everything to make it home before dark. It was much needed after the slightly rough start to the term.
I had a less dramatic trip home (thankfully), and it was comforting to reach the border post and return home to Swaziland.
This term is already shaping to be much different than last term, and it's really exciting. There's a different atmosphere and I think we're putting people's passions to better use. I continue to frequently reflect on my role here, but for now it's fun to feel part of the team, and not some awkward outsider floating around trying to find my place. I'm working to better respect people's needs and not be as demanding, although the consensus seems to be that people appreciate being held accountable. I've realized a lot about things here as well. While I am a new set of eyes, my ideas and visions are not all that different. It's clear that the teachers here are knowledge, passionate and dedicated to their work here, and that they've been fighting the same fight (so to speak) for years now. I think in some ways I initially lacked empathy in understanding the struggles they've been through to have what they do today, and that there was never really an absence of trying. It's good to be humbled like that everyone in a while. At the same time, I am happy that the skills I do have, and the things I am interested in seem to fit seamlessly with what I can do here.
Oops, duty calls!
 I’m in the process of collecting my thoughts on race and priviledge and how that is a part of my experience here. There’s a lot that can be explored, and I want to dissect it carefully. It’s been interesting to hear the varying experiences of other PCVs in Swaziland regarding these topics, and I want to note that the feeling of constantly being in a “fishbowl” is linked closely to this, and while it is easy to make light of it, I think it’s crucial to contemplate what my experience would be like if race was socially constructed differently, (or less visible due to a more hetereogenous population), and how the priviledges associated with my upbringing were not so easily pronounced here. In sum, I’d like us all to take a moment and contemplate, “How does our cultural worldview influence and inform our perception of people from other cultures?”, whereby “cultural worldview” can be exchanged with “priviledge in association with race or class” as an additional food for thought. End soliloquy 1.0