The Kingdom of Swaziland, an independent nation within South Africa, required a border crossing and passport stamping yesterday after our tour left Kruger National Park. Once here, the scenery reminded me of the Big Horns of Wyoming – gently rolling green hills and low mountains in the near distance. Arthur Geffley, our intrepid tour guide from Cape Town, pulled information on Swaziland from his fat file folder of material that he keeps at the front of the bus.
The motto of the kingdom, he informed us over the bus’s speakers, translated into English means “We are a fortress. We are a mystery. We are a riddle. We hide ourselves away.” By comparison, the motto of South Africa is, “Diverse cultures unite.” Arthur’s pride in his country is instructive and inspiring. He always adds the phrase “if all goes well” when speaking of any event scheduled in the future.
After we nearly bumped a cow that had stepped in front of the bus, he departed from his notes to advise us how to react if, traveling as an F.I.T. – a Fully Independent Tourist, as they’re known in the trade – you hit a cow with your rented car. “My suggestion to you is you don’t stop,” he said. “You report it at the next police station. If you stop, it’s going to cost you almost all the money you have.”
Swaziland is 170 miles long, north to south, and 100 miles wide. Its population of just over a million people has an AIDS rate of 26.1 percent, the highest in the world. Inhabited continuously since pre-history, the area obtained its independence from Britain in 1963.
We made two stops before settling in here at the Lugogo Sun Hotel. One was the Ngwenya glass factory, where I purchased a small glass bowl. At the next stop, Swazi Candles, artisans were creating colorful, playful candles of animals in splashes of bright and beautiful color. Darlene, Deb and I have settled into a routine for these stops, usually just under an hour. They scan the shops, and I set up my journals or netbook at the place offering coffee and tea.
Arthur gives us precise instructions as to what time he wants us back on the bus, and so far we have been the last ones just once. It’s usually Dave who is last, and yesterday at the glass workshop I panicked as I realized he and I were having a pleasant conversation over tea as the time for departure approached. Would I rush off with two minutes to spare and leave him alone with his cup three-quarters full? Or would I linger and experience another last-one-on-the-bus moment? I compromised, standing up but not leaving, at which point he gulped his cup and we arrived just about on time.
I met Bawinile Matsebulu this morning when I went out from the hotel, looking for a photo. She is a room checker at the Lugogo Sun. She has worked here for 15 years, and she was leaving for home in Lobamba. “May I take your photo?” I asked, to which she replied with a smile, “Will you pay me?” This seemed like a fair question, and I said yes, but we did not negotiate a price in advance of the shoot. When she asked if I will send her a copy, I said of course, thinking I might be able to email it to her. Instead, she wrote her name and address on one of my index cards, and I have a tickler on my calendar to print the photo and mail it to her when we return to the US. I gave her 10 Rand, the South African currency accepted here in Swaziland, which converts to about $1.50 US, and by her reaction that seemed to be a suitable payment for a photo.
The bus leaves in 20 minutes. I’m coming, Arthur!