Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Kingdom of Swaziland

Dearest Readers,

After our amazing experience in Kruger, we spent 5 days in Swaziland. Many PCVs from Lesotho end up going to Swazi at some point during their service, so, we’ve heard some good things about their wildlife and crafts previously. To be honest, another reason that we went into Swaziland was because of our visas, South Africa has recently restricted overland entry by bordering country residents (which we are considered as for the 2 years we’re here because of our Lesotho visas) to 7 days. Whatever the reason for going to Swaziland, it was definitely worth it. We were expecting something a lot like Lesotho; Swaziland is a small, mountainous country, presided over by a King, and claiming the highest HIV rate in the world, is definitely still entrenched in poverty as a “developing country” and is also mostly bordered by South Africa. Swaziland was strikingly different than Lesotho.

We entered in the north of the country and were immediately given a newspaper specifically for tourists that had different activities and events as well as feature articles about the various destinations and events. We then drove on excellent, well marked roads – the whole way. We noticed that the houses were generally nicer in the villages than in Lesotho. It was more heavily vegetated – some of that is the more tropical climate – and as a result soil erosion didn’t even seem to be an issue. The average person seemed to be more well dressed than in Lesotho and even the cows seemed to be fatter. There were also loads of really cool handicrafts! We visited a glass factory where Swazis took recycled glass and turned it into lovely creations using used motor oil to fuel the plant!  There were locally made chocolate truffles, beautiful wool and mohair weavings, locally made candles and soaps, many beautiful things woven from sisal grass and my all time favourite – a huge variety of locally crafted jewellery! In Lesotho, as some of you have seen, we struggle to find a postcard to send home.

Swaziland also did a good job emphasizing the local culture as part of the tourist experience. We went to a cultural village and saw the traditional houses and dancing. We learned about the tradition of polygamy and how that looked on a family compound, the roles of men and women, even the grandmother and sangoma (traditional healer). We also really enjoyed a traditional dancing show. We went to the national museum and learned about traditional weddings (lobola – bride price is still alive and well in both Lesotho and Swaziland... 18 cows seems to be the going rate for the groom to pay the bride’s family) and the reed dance where “maidens” from all over the country meet for a week to dance, sing and collect reeds to bring to the Queen Mother’s compound. I also enjoyed the Swazi cattle – called Ngweni cattle, there are so many amazing variations of colors and patterns, they are locally adapted and hardy so they thrive in the area.

We stayed in some really interesting places as well. The first place was a small B & B where the owners also had permaculture based landscaping and they had worms (check out the photo!), chickens, lovely gardens and fruit trees – they humoured us and gave us a lovely little tour of their place. The next place was a super artsy B & B which also had amazing landscaping with all of the lovely tropical flowering trees such as plumeria and hibiscus. The last place we stayed was a “Safari Lodge” which unfortunately seemed to be a bit run down, but they had the option to stay in one of the traditional beehive huts – so we did. It was really different, but nice – we didn’t have wooden headrests for pillows or have to sleep on grass mats but it was a good experience. The grass is really good at keeping the inside cool when it is hot out and warm when it cools off. We went on a little safari drive/hike, it wasn’t much compared to Kruger but was still quite interesting. The animals were much more skittish – apparently it is hunting season and they have issued permits to help manage their populations (Dad was quite sad to find this out a bit too late – no impala roast for us!) Our guide was really great though. The actual safari vehicle blew up last year so he set up chairs in the back of a truck for us to enjoy our safari drive! The guide’s name was Sibu and he actually did an 18 month internship at Disney World’s Wild Kingdom in Florida, so it was interesting to hear what his experience of America was in that context as well. He already had had guide experience before, and it showed that he knew a lot about the animals and the bush – because we’re a bit nerdy we were even asking about insects and such and there wasn’t anything he couldn’t tell us about.

Other things: we got to go to the “Cuddle Puddle” hot springs – which was pretty nice, since we haven’t been to a hot springs for 2 years.  We stopped at Maguga Dam, this was interesting because we got to talk to the guy responsible for the relocation of the villages in the area where the dam was built and he actually told us that he learned from a lot of other resettlement projects, including Katse in Lesotho and he feels that the Maguga Dam relocation was probably one of the most successful dam relocations in the world. We also briefly met some Swaziland Peace Corps Volunteers which was pretty cool, they directed us to some of the best pizza that we’ve eaten since being in Africa and they mentioned that they only knew of one Swazi PCV that had visited Lesotho...

That pretty much wraps up our experience of Swaziland. I’d like to point out that Swaziland really is a true Kingdom. Lesotho follows the British system where there is a king as a figurehead but then there is a democratically elected Prime Minister and Parliament. One of the subjects that is talked about in “development theory” (hopefully that’s right, keep in mind that my focus really is Ag), is the realized merit of democracy for development and if it is really the most beneficial system for building a country up. Cleary, corrupt dictators are not the only other alternative. I can’t speak to this too much but again, it was quite interesting to see the difference between Swaziland and Lesotho – though I understand that it is impossible to pinpoint one cause. Also, all I’m going to say on this is that the King of Swaziland is a bit of an interesting character.

Stay tuned for the next instalment from our trip which was Kosi Bay, several other parts of the “Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park” also known as Isimangaliso (it means “something amazing” in Zulu) Wetland Park, and also Hluhluwe National Park.

All our best from Lesotho,

Carol and Shane

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