December 21, 2006 – Walleighs Look Back and Forward: Africa’s Contrasting, Parallel Universes.
Rick and I were fortunate to have lived, worked, and traveled in amazing places in Swaziland, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. But we didn’t have to go far to see the rest of Africa: barefoot and ragged children, grandmothers carrying babies because parents died from AIDS, mud hovels, free-range cattle everywhere, subsistence farms, and trash along the roads. Many times over the last five months, we were struck by the contrasts. While we were having nice dinners, drinking great wine, visiting resorts on safari or touring natural wonders, we often commented that we were in a different, parallel universe from 99% of Africans. A few oases have been carved into the overwhelming poverty, which give us hope that Africa can reach its full potential in a few generations. That is why we Rick and I will return to live for much of 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya, working again for TechnoServe. While my role is still TBD, Rick will mentor the new, local TechnoServe Kenya Country Manager to ensure the continued growth and success of this 40+ person organization. Both of us are confident that this next phase of our encore career will productively use all of our business, life, and cultural skills and experiences accumulated to date. Another exciting challenge to be met!
Now you have no excuses. Please visit since we’ll be there longer! And stayed tuned for more of the Wonderful World of the Walleighs in Africa.
Dec. 12, 2006 – Vervet Monkeys Say Good-Bye
As if they knew it was my last day in Swaziland, my beloved monkeys scampered on our carport and across our front yard. This was a warm send-off and wonderful last image of our 5 months here.
Dec. 10 – Huge Hail Storm Destroys Our Rental Car as we are Driving
We promised Carolyn a visit to more potential Christmas gift places when we returned to Swaziland, so in the early afternoon, we drove to the craft stalls in Ezulwini Valley. Rick and I had never been there, so this was a good opportunity. As we wandered along, we noted that were there probably twice as many stalls as “the market could bare” and definitely repetition of very similar objects. There also was the desperation among the craftsman and stall owners on this very quiet Sunday. Some told us we were their first customers that day (at 2:00p.m.). Some literally begged us to buy something and they’d give us a good price. We did find a few, nice, unique presents for family.
Rick then drove us to Ngwenya Glass Factory, west of Mbabane. Carolyn and I bought a few things, Rick got himself some candy at the Millens’ Chocolate Studio, and we headed back to Mbabane. Carolyn noticed the gathering storm clouds, and we commented that Swaziland frequently had thunder and lightening along with the rain, which started moments later. We mentioned that there had been hail a few times as well. Moments later the hail came down. We said that sometimes the hail was impressive. Moments later the hail outside grew to golf ball size, making loud noises on the car. One of us spoke, “Wow, the hail is big enough to break the windshield.” Moments later, the windshield cracked. There was no place to shelter so we kept driving. The hailstones grew to tennis then softball size, with jagged points. Moments later that back window shattered glass all over the inside of the car—only small pieces were left at the corners. Though Carolyn was scared and covered with little green shards, the glass hadn’t cut her. She held up her jacket over the back window so she wouldn’t get wetter or hit by more hail. Meanwhile, the windshield cracked again and again. After what seemed to be an eternity but was less than 30 minutes, we drove up the very bumpy road in Emafini. We were concerned that the windshield might collapse on the rough road, but we kept going UNTIL we reached the large tree fallen across the road. Rick and the car behind him backed down to shelter under a set of trees while Carolyn and I walked up the short distance to Emafini owners’ Liz and Mark’s house. Mark opened the door as we approached to explain that a big tree lay across the road and we couldn’t drive over it. He said he’d take care of it. Just as Carolyn and I our reached house, we saw Mark drive by in a huge front-loader—he was still dressed in his “Sunday best.” A little while later, Rick drove the car into the car port. We couldn’t reach Avis in Mbabane or Jo’burg because the phone lines (land and cell) were working intermittently at best.
Sunday ended with our walking to our other neighbor’s house, where the week before we had arranged to have drinks. With our magnum of Rustenburg cabernet in hand, Carolyn, Rick, Patrick, Katherine, and I toasted to a spectacular end of the day. My dramatic Swaziland images started with a huge fire in the farm fields across the canyon from Emafini then a windstorm that no one had ever seen the likes of in their lifetime. Now pictures on our website corroborate this hailstorm from hell that marked the end of our time in Swaziland.
Dec. 5 to 9 – Touring with Carolyn in Cape Town and South Africa’s Wine Country
We arrived about 9:30pm Dec. 5th at a hotel on Cape Town’s outskirts because the city proper was totally booked. While unsuccessfully trying to reserve a room in about 25 hotels, Rick learned that Cape Town was the site of The 2006 World Diabetes Congress, with thousands of doctors and researchers. We think we saw most of them over the next few days playing hooky as we toured the city, coast, and wine country.
Wednesday, December 6th was a clear and glorious day so we drove straight to Table Mountain. With the convention and summer vacation time, the lines were much longer than when we were there with Adrian. But we took the tram to the top and casually strolled around to enjoy the amazing views in every direction. Experiencing Table Mountain a second time was no less breath-taking.
From there we drove to Victoria & Albert Waterfront, which is a combination of Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli, and Union Square in San Francisco: working dock, high end stores, tourist shops, beautiful hotels, and stunning views of the harbor and Atlantic Ocean. Much to Rick’s dismay, Carolyn and I dragged him to many shops on our Christmas gift quest. However, we did stop for lunch at an outdoor cafe along the water, and watched the bridge between piers swing back and forth across the canal to allow boats to travel in and out almost continually. Although tourists who were trying to cross to the other side were held up for 15 minutes at a time, the delays were offset by the novelty of this kind of draw bridge and watching the passage of a variety of tug, sail, fishing, pleasure, motor, and container ships.
As we were walking a little while later to a different pier, we were forced to stop as workers re-assembled the bridge that was actually a removable lock for a large, commercial dry dock. It was fascinating to watch tug boat pull a container ship out of a water-filled dry dock. It was even more fascinating see this huge metal structure be floated in then turned to fit precisely into position in order to re-construct the lock and drain the water again for the next ship repair.
One of the most interesting shopping experiences at the wharf was a building with artisan stalls. I was attracted to a primitive, colorful oil painting, and stopped to talk with the woman in the stall. Turns out, she was the mother of the brother and sister who created all the paintings. Her husband had first been the artist, but he died “in an accident” (I suspect AIDS) then her children decided to try their hands at painting. Whether her story was true or not, I bought a few small paintings and that 1st work that represented the mixture of white, black, and colored people on the beach at Durban celebrating the end of apartheid. I really prefer to take home these kinds of handcrafts with interesting tales.
Rick was a good sport throughout the afternoon. And he did enjoy the company of two lovely, sophisticated women—as well as a fabulous dinner at One Waterfront in the Cape Grace Hotel. The best restaurants in Cape Town and Winelands are comparable to the best in San Francisco Bay Area.
The next morning we packed up and started driving along the coast as we had done with Adrian. We stopped at the Ostrich Farm where our tour guide was a young, Hispanic man who had been born and raised in Monterey, Calif.! He had volunteered in the Peace Corps in Lesotho–a small nation similar to Swaziland, also surrounded by South Africa–and then decided to stay in South Africa to obtain a masters degree. What are the odds???
We carried on touring Cape of Good Hope (and rode the funicular again); Monkey Valley and other areas with Chacma Baboon troupes; the rugged Chapman Peak Drive; and Boulders Colony of Jackass Penguins. All 3 of us thoroughly enjoyed the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and coast scenery.
By late afternoon, we drove toward our hotel in Stellenbosch, less than an hour from Cape Town but in the heart of South Africa’s Wine Lands. As is true everywhere in South Africa’s wine country, there is an interesting mix of cultures, names, and architectures: Cape Dutch, Afrikaans, British, and French Huguenot. We checked into the d’Ouwe Werf, the oldest inn in South Africa, with its original buildings dating about 300 years back. The rooms were huge and luxurious, and after a relaxing nap, we strolled about 50 feet to dinner in the fabulous hotel restaurant called 1802.
Fortified by a delicious breakfast, we hit our first winery, Tokara, before 10:30 a.m. Since it was too early for lunch (yes, there is a pattern here of food and wine enjoyment!), we had to taste at two more wine estates: Delaire and Rustenburg (we visited the gardens and labyrinth and bought a delicious bargain 1.5 liter of Cabernet for about $35). Finally time for lunch, we shared a large, prepared picnic basket in the back of the Zellenwacht Winery, under the trees, surrounded by flowers and birds singing, and 2 large pigs roasting on spits…
We had time for 1 more wine estate, and chose Vergelegen. Now our 2nd visit, we came close to saying it correctly with “g” pronounced like the German throat-clearing “ch”: ver-che-LECH-en. The property’s huge camphor trees were planted in 1700 as the farm was founded. Though not in continuous production, the winery has been going in fits and starts since then. The buildings and gardens are beautiful examples of Cape Dutch style. Though we had visited Tokara, Rustenberg, and Vergelegen on our 1st trip to Wine Lands, these wines and estates held up well to a 2nd experience.
We returned to the d’Ouwe Werf Inn, where Rick decided to take a nap before dinner to rejuvenate after a hard day of wine tasting. But Carolyn and I had yet to explore the cute downtown of Stellenbosch, so we walked around the nearby streets and shops that were Europe-like versions of Yountville or St. Helena in Napa Valley. Carolyn and I rested after our trek, changed for dinner, then all 3 of us walked a block away to another wonderful dinner at Wijnhuis (Afrikaans for Wine House). It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it: eat more great food and drink more delicious red wine.
Our last morning in South Africa started off with more good food at breakfast, then we headed to the airport, flew back to Johannesburg, and drove back to Mbabane. And yes, had another fine dinner at Finesse Restaurant, serenaded by the truly virtuoso performance of the Mbabane River froggies. A fitting end to this week-long adventure.
Dec. 3 to 5 – Victoria Falls on the Zambezi between Zambia and Zimbabwe
We flew to Livingstone, Zambia on Sunday. As we were driven through the town of Livingstone, we were told that Dr. Livingston had discovered Victoria Falls and named it after the Queen. Colonial presumption at its best! The town was depressing–I wouldn’t like to see it without tourism’s support. It’s unfortunately like many other towns across Africa: lots of unemployed people just hanging out on the streets, trash along the roads, very nice cottages next to wattle and daub structures. We can only hope that some of our money is filtering into the local economy.
We arrived at the contrasting and lovely Zambezi Sun Resort, checked in quickly, then walked less than 10 minutes away to Victoria Falls. Unlike the concentrated flow of Niagara Falls into a broad open river below, the Zambezi River drops into a deep, narrow gorge. Victoria Falls extends for what seems like miles in multiple cascades and flumes. We walked along the Zambia side for about 1.5 hours. The mist was so thick that rainbows formed everywhere we looked. It was so impressive that we couldn’t believe the Zimbabwe side of Vic Falls (we’d visit the next afternoon) would be any more beautiful.
We walked back to the hotel’s activity center to arrange for an elephant safari the next morning, and with about 15 minutes to spare, decided to spontaneously take the sunset river cruise at 4:00 p.m. The boat driver could easily maneuver our small covered craft along the wide, smooth Zambezi River above the falls. So he drove us just tens of feet away from hippos hiding in the water with their eyes peeking above the river surface, occasionally extending their head up to yawn or snort water. Playful and docile, hippos lull you into a sense of safety. But they turn very cranky very quickly if threatened in the least and are responsible for killing or maiming more people every year than the so-called Big Five animals. Further downstream, we approached a family of elephants in the river. They playfully sprayed water and climbed on top of each other like overgrown children as they headed toward shore at sunset. Hippos and elephants, along with rhinos, protect their skin with mud and water which also allows them to move with greater flexibility. The good news and bad news was that once again we only saw crocodiles from a distance along the river bank. We did have a full view of monitor lizard though he first appeared to be a weird log. At one section of the river, there were a group of trees that were home to hundreds of birds, in tens of varieties. The trees were virtually covered with large and small, colorful and dull, predator and fishing birds, birds, birds. Our guide couldn’t explain why those specific trees along the Zambezi, but said that birds always roosted there.
After a good night’s sleep, we were picked up at 6:30 a.m. in front of our hotel, for our Elephant Safari experience at a preserve about 30 minutes away. Leaving the car and reality behind, about 12 of us were introduced to our elephants and handler/drivers–our rides and guides for the morning. These enormous African elephants had been orphaned or abandoned then raised and trained to carry people on command. Despite being one of the Big Five in Africa, these elephants did not seem scary. So Rick and I walked up a platform, spread our legs widely over a padded saddle on the elephant’s back, put our feet in horse-like stirrups, held onto a ridge in the saddle, and with hope and innocence, trusted in our handlers’ ability to keep them moving in a caravan fashion for 1.5 hours. Carolyn accompanied just the handler on her elephant. Off we lumbered slowly around the preserve. The biggest excitement was crossing a river on the elephant’s back. As each elephant stepped into the water with its passengers, a guide shot pictures with each rider’s camera. Good thing it was before the crossing. Another couple’s elephant ahead of ours stumbled or stepped into a hole in the river bottom. The water must have been over ten feet deep in places, because the back passenger was dunked above his waist. Our driver had us lift our feet onto our ele’s back otherwise our legs would have been soaked. Then we ambled our way out of the river, through more of the preserve, and back to the camp. Our elephant kneeled to let us sit on each of his front legs for pictures then we each fed him through the tip of his trunk and into his mouth when we said, “Trunk up.” We learned a new factoid from this adventure. Besides having much larger ears which flap a lot to cool the many blood vessels on the back, African elephants are distinguished from Asian elephants via their “opposing lips” at the end of the trunk which allow them to better pick up indigenous food.
After a hearty English breakfast back at the camp, we viewed the trip highlights on DVD that had been captured by a budding filmmaker. Yes, we bought the DVD (which I’ll try to download onto our web), and yes it was tourist-y, cheesy, and I had ridden an elephant once at Marine World in Calif. BUT the elephant ride was one of my highlights in Africa–like being in an old-time safari movie with Clark Gable. It was especially thrilling because we were privileged that one of the Big Five gave us a ride on his back. I’ll stop gushing now…
We returned to the Zambezi Sun and decided to arrange for a driver to take us to the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls. The views were truly amazing, and even more impressive that the Zambian side of the falls. We strolled along the gorge rim for almost 2 hours before heading back across the border. Seeing the Zim side of Victoria Falls was absolutely worth it, even though I resented contributing any money to President Mugabe’s government.
That evening the Zambezi Sun and Royal Livingstone Hotels (on the same general property) jointly hosted a “braai” with local youth singing and dancing. The food was widely varied with curries, grilled veggies, and all sorts of meats. As I’ve often experienced, the most interesting part of the evening was Carolyn, Rick and my chatting with our table-mates, a white South African couple about our age from Durban who talked about their country’s enormous changes over the years. They were clearly liberal-minded yet honest about the many activities now happening there, including Black Enterprise Empowerment. It was fascinating.
After a quiet next morning we headed back to Livingstone Airport, flew back to Jo’burg then onto to Cape Town.
SIDEBAR: Rick Develops a Pinched Nerve
Some time in late October or early November, Rick strained his neck and upper back. We did not invite Carolyn to visit us in Swaziland just because she is a Physical Therapist, but she arrived in time to relieve him of the worst of the pain. Throughout her visit, Carolyn stretched and pulled Rick’s neck, back, and arm so that he could drive, ride, sit, and sleep as comfortably as possible. THANK YOU, Carolyn.
Dec. 2 – Driving to then Lost in Johannesburg
Rather than spend over US$900 for the 3 of us to fly to Jo’burg, Rick drove Carolyn and me for 4+ hours to a hotel near the airport so we could fly to Victoria Falls the next morning. We could not have driven from Swaziland to Jo’burg in time with the South Africa border opening at 6:00 a.m. and the only flight to Zambia at 11:30 a.m.
Although Rick was exhausted from driving with a pinched nerve in his neck, I insisted that he drive us to Nelson Mandela Square in the Sandton section of Jo’burg. I knew that this was the only chance Carolyn would have to see Johannesburg…and I wanted to have dinner at the wonderful Bukhara Indian Restaurant where I had gone in early August with Atiba and Leslie from TechnoServe.
Rick got directions from the concierge and off we went. Despite my carefully trying to follow maps and directions, we missed a critical turn. I did eventually recognize Commissioner Strasse and some of the downtown Johannesburg buildings from my previous trips (and wild ride). But after wandering in increasingly less crowded areas, we stopped at a gas station convenience store for Rick to get directions. Carolyn and I sat in the car with the doors locked. Rick was warned that we really shouldn’t be in that section of town, but given better directions via a nearby freeway to reach Mandela Square. Scary for about 30 minutes, but we did arrive safe and sound. The Mall at Mandela Square could have been Trump Towers in Manhattan with similar high-end stores, glitzy decorations, upscale restaurants, and young professional urbanites. We had a great dinner at Bukhara and returned much faster to our hotel than the circuitous, somewhat frightening route we had taken to Mandela Square.
Nov. 27th to Dec. 1st – Last Week at TechnoServe Swaziland as Carolyn Arrives
It’s hard to believe that this is our last week in the TechnoServe Swaziland office and only 15 days before we fly back to Calif.—and boy, were they action-packed!
Sunday, November 26, Linda and Regan from JA South Africa arrived to train us and LULOTE on the JA Company program (aka as JA Mini-Enterprise). Sunday evening dinner at Kanimambo Restaurant was wonderful as usual, and we enjoyed the lively conversation with our South African colleagues as well as Linda’s son Matthew. The rapport between Linda and son reminded us even more how much we looked forward to seeing our own kids in a few weeks. Then bright and early Monday morning through Tuesday mid-day, we were all at the LULOTE classrooms in Manzini to become expert JA Company trainers as well as gauge how much we needed to tailor the material to the Swazi context. These were a very productive couple of days.
Late Tuesday morning, Rick picked up Carolyn at Matsapha airport, then came for me at LULOTE so we could all have lunch together in downtown Manzini at the Tums George Hotel coffee shop. I returned to LULOTE for Atiba’s and my Tuesday afternoon de-briefing session, Rick dropped Carolyn at our house for a shower and nap, then he returned to the office for a few hours. It was so much fun going home at the end of the day knowing that Carolyn was there! We had a good chat, previewed her experience in Kruger for the next 3 days, and trundled her off to bed.
On Wednesday morning, Carolyn was driven by a friend of Kiki, the TechnoServe office driver, to the Sabi Sands Reserve area of Kruger National Park, South Africa. We had arranged for her to “rough it” at Nottens Bush Camp in the same way that Adrian, Rick and I had experienced in early September. Morning game drives with coffee and biscuits. Back to the lodge for an English breakfast on the veranda. Mid-day nap, afternoon tea then game drive with a proper gin and tonic to celebrate sundown. Return to the lodge for a braai (barbeque) while listening to the roars, trumpets, croaks, and whirs of night-time in the African savannah. Needless to say, Carolyn had a marvelous time, though her ride back to Swaziland took much longer than expected due to “Friday night rush hour” at the South Africa border.
Meanwhile, Rick and I completed our final tasks at the TechnoServe office in Mbabane. Anyone who’s a Trekkie (Startrek fanatic) will remember that Spock used to perform the Vulcan Mind Meld to occasionally transfer his knowledge and power to a mere human being. Rick and I performed “VolCon (aka TechnoServe Volunteer Consultant) Mind Meld with our office-mates to ensure that all of our information would be handed off to the right people.
Since we were waiting for Carolyn to be driven back to Swaziland, I was allowed to join the TechnoServe Men’s Night Out, which consisted of relaxed conversation while consuming beer, wine, and juice on the rooftop outside the office. This was a fitting way to recognize all the wonderful friends, colleagues, experiences, and memories coming to a close!
Nov. 26 – Returning to Ngwena Glass Factory and Seeing Sibebe Rock
We drove to the Ngwenya Glass Factory again—our 3rd trip and I’m sure we’ll return with Carolyn. Starting this month, prior to the holidays, literally hundreds of tour buses stop there and the factory ships thousands of pieces to South Africa and a few places in the U.S.
The site is near the Ngwenya iron ore mines, which are supposedly the oldest in the world. The factory was started in 1979 with Swedish funding and guidance from Swedish glass designers who trained a few Swazis to become masters in this trade. Though the Glass Factory closed in the 1980s, it was re-started less than 10 years ago by a white Swazi family who found and re-hired the Swedish-trained local masters. The beautiful, heavy glass vases, animals, tableware, etc. are all forged and blown from recycled glass gathered then sold to the Factory by a network of rural poor. The Factory helps clean up the bottles littering the landscape, teaches the rural children brought to the factory about how the glass is used (and improving their environment), and it gives their families a little extra income. This kind of “value chain” is what TechnoServe tries to create in agriculture and other local industries.
I would love to take some of the glassware back to Calif. as gifts, but don’t want to worry about breakage and extra weight. So I have to “make do” with the jewelry designed by the owner’s daughter-in-law and forged at the factory. Oh well, it’s all to benefit Swaziland’s economy, right?
Because Sunday was bright and sunny, after non-stop rain Saturday, we rode over to Sibebe Rock outside of Mbabane. It is either the largest or 2nd to largest block of granite in the world. We drove through more beautiful Swazi landscape, and though Sibebe Rock was not marked, we guessed it was the huge grey chunk that reminded us of a dome in Yosemite.
Nov. 24 – Our Going-Away Party, One Week Early
With our travel plans starting December 2nd and our return to Calif. on Dec. 12th, the TechnoServe office wanted us to have an enjoyable send-off after our five-month stay. To ensure maximum attendance, we gathered 4:30 p.m. Friday afternoon on the poolside terrace of the Mountain Inn, overlooking the Mbabane valley. It was a glorious view, the sun shone (after an earlier rain got us worried), the wine and beer flowed, and the whole office relaxed in each other’s company. Yes, we will see them all next week, but I already know that I will miss these people.
Nov. 23 – Weird Thanksgiving
I felt as though something was out of place all day. And it was: no Thanksgiving. It was weird to not have the day acknowledged anywhere. None of the few Americans we know were planning a get-together, never-mind a turkey dinner. It was stranger to have no Thanksgiving than to minimize my birthday since Rick gave me cards, bought a chocolate cake, the office sang happy birthday to me, and both kids called. We left work at the usual time about 6:30, went home, snacked on cheese, crackers, and nuts, had a bowl of tomato soup, and watched TV. We did see a bit of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and President Bush’s annual “pardon” of the turkey (not Dick Cheney) on CNN. And I think there was the clip of the cartoon turkey singing “I will survive” with Gloria Gaynor’s voice over. About 20 minutes in total devoted to Thanksgiving…
Nov. 20 – Last 10 Days of Work Here and Anticipating Carolyn’s Arrival
So much to do and so little time left now. Grants to write, meetings with new donor prospects to set, knowledge to hand off to Atiba, capacity building with LULOTE, and JA Company training with JA South Africa.
Besides the friends we’ve made, I’ll miss the nightly frog symphony. Their multi-tone croaking strongly resembles the noise from sticks rubbed along the backs of wooden frog toys. Of course I’ll miss the monkeys, warthogs, hippos, and giraffes.
Nov. 18 to 19 weekend – Neither Thunder, Lightening, Rain nor Fog Stops Us from Having Dinners with Friends
We now understand why Emafini, the location of our homey cottage, is named “in the clouds”. When we drove on Saturday to get our massages at the Royal Swazi, the fog was pea soup thick. Bad enough during the day, it was truly scary at night.
We drove at a crawl to dinner Saturday night to meet Atiba and Doris. For the last half a mile, we could barely see 10 feet ahead on the road. Considering how far inland we are, this fog spreads for miles, appearing and disappearing in unpredictable places. It’s a good thing we didn’t have to travel too far, especially Saturday night.
On Sunday evening, we met Mkhululi, Katie, and their adorable daughter, Ayanza, for dinner. They had hosted us at the Reed Dance when Adrian was here (go to our website for a picture of them at the event). Rick has been working with Mkhululi on 2 livestock projects—assessing the potential success of establishing a dairy industry in Swaziland that can compete with South Africa or developing an integrated piggery business that can fill gaps that South Africa cannot. Despite the odor, pigs seem to be a better bet to network the typical, Swazi family farmers who can manage small parts of the market chain. And the pig-associated vocabulary is certainly much more interesting! Rick and Mkhululi are constantly discussing the pros and cons of different stages of raising pigs: suckers, weaners, porkers, cutters, and baconers, multipliers, nuclei, and abattoirs. We certainly never expected to learn this much about piggies!
Nov. 17 – TechnoServe Women’s Night Out
This fun evening kicked off Rick’s and my round of “last dinners” with the friends we’ve made in Swaziland—through the office or Emafini. All 10 of TechnoServe Swaziland’s intrepid women went out for drinks and dinner at a nearby new restaurant, The Old Barn Venue (yes, WW organized this as is often her role in life). We all sat at 2 picnic tables on the “back porch” where we were serenaded by frogs and ducks in the nearby pond. Gin & Tonic was definitely the drink of choice (16 were purchased) with a few glasses of wine thrown in for good measure. After 3+ hours of juicy stories/gossip and giggling, talk of clothes and make up, boyfriends/husbands and children, we had all bonded.
Nov. 15 – Wendy’s Wild Wanderings in Johannesburg
My week’s highlight was a one-day trip and back to Johannesburg, South Africa to meet with two potential donors. It started out innocently enough with Rick dropping me at the Matsapha Airport at 7:30 a.m. and then a relatively smooth flight in the 30-person South African Airlink plane.
It was all downhill after I landed. You know how you think you get into the wrong line at the supermarket? I truly got into THE longest line in customs with the slowest customs officer. I was one of the last people from two flights to reach the open area of the terminal.
Then I started to look for my ride. Our office manager had arranged for our TechnoServe Jo’burg office to send a driver to pick me up at the airport at 9:30 a.m. then take me to our office before my appointments. Unfortunately, there were several locations where the driver could have been, all of which I searched for more than 20 minutes. Without a cell phone that worked in S. Africa, I never did find the driver and couldn’t call either office to see where he might be. So one of the many persistent taxi drivers suggested I ride with him. I should have gotten a hint of the trouble when we headed for a parking space in the garage rather than a car at the curb. But I showed him the address of the Jo’burg TNS office, and felt that his verbal and reading English skills were good enough, so away we headed. After 11:00 a.m. we arrived at the address of the old TechnoServe location in Illovo from which we had moved to the Rosebank section of Jo’burg awhile ago. The driver supposedly was calling our office for directions but never seemed to hear them. I made the driver stop the car to let me get my computer bag out of the back, so I could get the address of where I needed to be at 12:00 noon in downtown Jo’burg. After going the longest way possible downtown, we started circling the same 10 blocks despite the driver calling this office to get directions. At 12:00 noon I literally threatened to not pay him if he didn’t get me to the right address in 5 minutes. Finally I got to the right building 15 minutes late but had a successful prospective donor meeting. A new taxi was called so I could get to my 2:00 p.m. appointment (near where I had been lost with the last driver). As I was waiting at the street level, I noticed the sign on the building across the way. I was on the street right behind where Leslie, Atiba, and I had been in early August. No wonder everything looked so familiar! And not just from getting lost in the cab!
Despite the new taxi driver’s not getting lost, I arrived at my 2nd appointment almost 20 minutes late. But the meeting was still productive and we are hopeful they will partner with us on the youth program. As he had promised the 2nd taxi driver returned to take me to the airport. Since I had not had time for lunch, I ate a chocolate Luna Bar as we headed to the airport. Though I started to panic with the rush hour traffic, I had about an hour to spare. I asked an airline person in the lobby if I needed to get a different boarding pass. Since I didn’t, I went through customs and near the gate; I decided to use the restroom. As I washed up after…I looked in the mirror and saw a large chocolate smudge on my nose. Just a perfect end to this day. No one had said anything because I guess they thought it was normal for a well-dressed white woman to have a large brown spot on her nose. Oh, well. The small SAA flight took off on time, hit some bumps while approaching Matsapha airport, but I arrived safely on the ground. Rick met me in the small airport lobby after another routinely delaying immigration check-in. I had definitely experienced a truly Diana type of day.
Ramblings about the Nov. 6th Week
This was a busy week for the SAYE (School Age Youth Entrepreneurship) Program which is JA while it is under TechnoServe’s guidance. I initiated and participated in several donor pitches to local multi-national companies and arranged several for Leslie, our Country Manager, during the 13 Nov. week when she is in Johannesburg. We also conducted the final training then held the final session of JA Economics for Success. We organized Carolyn’s trip to Kruger National Park, South Africa then all 3 of us going to Victoria Falls, Zambia, Cape Town, and the nearby Winelands. I instigated a TechnoServe Women’s Night Out for Fri., 17 Nov. and the office folks began planning Rick’s and my Going Away Party.
I am definitely looking forward to going back to the U.S. to see family and friends. As you can guess, I have mixed feelings about departing Swaziland. I am very proud of what’s been accomplished in setting up the youth program. Rick knows he’s made a difference with his young colleagues though he feels he doesn’t have as much tangible to show as I. But we will certainly miss the people in the office, their spouses, and the other local and ex-pat friends we have made. It’s always the people that I miss.
Since the whole TechnoServe office space is less than 150 square meters, everyone (10 to 12 staff and volunteers at any given time) is jammed into 2 of the 3 offices. We spill over into Leslie’s office or the conference room and at least 3 people are visiting clients throughout most days, but pretty much we are a just few feet away from at least 3 or 4 colleagues all the time. The few partitions are for show not effect, and even the so-called office walls are just partitions from floor to ceiling—definitely not sound-proof. This makes it difficult/impossible for privacy, so everyone can and often does interrupt any nearby conversation. But it also helps build good relationships and affords frequent laughter.
The daily thunderstorms continued the whole week. They generally seemed to be right overhead, so the noise and lightening are spectacular. However, what’s different from what we expected is that they are spectacular sometimes 2 or more times a day. So it’s not like the Sierra where something blows over then it’s sunny again. Serious rain pours down between the claps and crackles, stops for a while, then starts again most days.
The poop really hit the fan when lightening struck a key Swaziland Cellular tower on Thursday. So all of Swaziland’s mobile phones went down. For a few hours Friday morning MTN must have found a temporary solution, but then service went down until Saturday morning about 9:00 a.m. Yes, MTN from South Africa has the monopoly for cell service, so a small perfunctory apology ad appeared in Saturday’s newspapers toward the back of the tabloid. But the headlines were totally classic for here: “Swaziland in the Grips of Cell Outage” in huge type across most of the front page. However, more than cell service was affected because Friday late afternoon my call with TechnoServe in D.C. was dropped 3 times and then Diana had to call me back 3 times that evening. And yes, there is a landline phone monopoly, Swaziland Post & Telecom which is basically the government (like our U.S.P.S.). So they didn’t even acknowledge any glitches. Supposedly in 2008, MTN loses its exclusivity on cells, but according to the manager of the local MTN store downstairs from our office, Swaziland will probably be too small for any other mobile company to want to compete. He said that Swaziland may be cell saturated since penetration is already at 13+%, much higher than the 10% anticipated. Especially in light of Swaziland’s death rate exceeding its births, why enter an already small market with a shrinking population just to compete on price?
Our 3rd and final JA Economics for Success class was especially interesting for Rick and me because we had 3 guest speakers. The first was Mrs. Gamedze, who is Executive Director of LULOTE, the organization TechnoServe is training to take over the SAYE program. As I spend more time with her, I only am more impressed by her abilities, especially to articulate her passion about the youth program. She is a Swazi Senator, Chairman of the SwaziBank Board of Directors and on the Board of multiple other institutions. She spoke from her heart to the 30+ young people about growing up poor but aiming to get a diploma to teach business classes in secondary school. She went on to graduate university, eventually received a masters degree in Scotland, took courses in the U.S. and now runs an NGO among her other duties.
The 2nd speaker runs a local store, Gone Rural, who has been nominated for recognition globally by BBC. Her staff works with about 700 rural women who gather weaving grass, sell it for dying to Gone Rural, who sell it back to the women to weave into home-ware products that will sell well because of their design, color, and quality. She is a white Swazi by birth and commitment, who talked frankly to the students about her business’s global competition. She emphasized that whatever business they start, these young people will need to keep ahead of the Chinese and Indians who copy her designs then manufacture and sell them at lower prices.
The 3rd and final speaker was a former employee of Mrs. Gamedze at LULOTE who now owns and operates a supermarket in Malkerns and café in Manzini. He talked partly in Siswati so we didn’t understand everything, but he grew up in poverty and at one point raised his many siblings for a few years on his own while his mother was very ill. He really connected with the kids, talking about his education being interrupted and life, chaotic, but he persisted toward achieving his goals. One young woman asked what kept him going, and he said his Catholic faith. In a country that is 90+% Christian, I’m sure that resonated.
I’m sure than these 3 speakers had much greater impact than anything Rick or I could have said, yet totally reinforced all the concepts in the JA program. What a powerful way to end the 3 sessions.
After class, Rick and I drove for lunch to Malendela’s “farm” restaurant nearby where we sat outside overlooking the fields, with the mountains in the distance. As we sat there relaxing, in walked our neighbors at Emafini whose family runs a number of local hotels and other businesses. It was as though we were in downtown Los Altos at Le Boulanger where there is a high probably of running into people we know. Comfortable and nice–though it feels as if we dropped into and then back out drop out of a small town… With a month left before we leave Swaziland, I know it’s the people I’ll miss.
Nov. 2 – Finally, the answer to the question, “What’s Rick been doing in Swaziland?”
Some of you have asked, “Why does the blog detail Wendy’s activities, and we don’t hear anything about Rick?” There are three reasons for this: 1) Wendy writes the blog; 2) Rick has said “I leave the blog to you”; and 3) Wendy can point to more tangibly successful activities than Rick can.
Rick’s role is to work with the team of business advisors who attempt to start or grow businesses that will provide jobs for the poor, particularly in rural areas. This is an important activity in Swaziland, since the unemployment rate is generally conceded to be well above the official rate of 40%. Starting businesses is also a challenging activity, as any Silicon Valley entrepreneur can attest. Now imagine that you are trying to start a business without benefit of a venture capital community or lots of successful role models. Also take into consideration that if these businesses are successful that they will have reasonable, but not spectacular, profitability and return on investment. Add in a generally lower level of business sophistication, and you’ll begin to understand the challenge.
At TechnoServe in general, the approach is to identify businesses, basically sub-industries, usually agricultural, that present an opportunity for profitable operation and job creation. The next steps are to generate a viable business plan for an individual or co-op business in this sub-industry, identify an entrepreneur who can lead this business, find the necessary financing, and provide consulting for the startup venture. This general approach has been very successful in the cashew industry in Mozambique, the dairy industry in Kenya and the coffee industry in Tanzania, among others.
In Swaziland, TechnoServe has a slightly different source of funding and a slightly different charter so we have a two-pronged approach. We pursue the standard TechnoServe approach and we also respond to requests for assistance, if they fit our criteria of potentially providing jobs for the rural poor. Rick has spent a lot of time working with three major clients. The first was a gentleman who wanted to start a bottled water company in Swaziland. Some people think that just because Swaziland imports a lot of a particular commodity that this is a great opportunity to start a Swazi business for that product. We couldn’t just tell this sweet, older gentleman that starting a bottled water company when there were already ten in the market, including Coke and Nestle, was not a great idea. We had to do some research to back up what we intuitively knew was correct. After a few weeks, though, we did break the bad news to him as anticipated.
The second client is a business for pressure treating wooden poles for use as electrical/telephone poles, fence posts, etc. From my financial analysis, this business looks like a great profit generator. However, the entrepreneurs promoting this business have run out of money twice trying to get it started, and now it looks like they need nearly a million dollars of capital to assure a successful start up. They have also been at this effort for six years. The business plan that I’ve developed and the financial analysis that I’ve done give the opportunity credibility, but we still have to find an investor willing to put in almost a million dollars. There are a couple of sources on the horizon, but nothing has been concluded.
The third client is a recent start up that makes traditional Swazi corn bread that must be made from fresh corn. The business started in March and was growing sales to near profitability when the supplies of fresh corn (known as maize or mealies) ran out. It turns out that fresh corn is only readily available four months of the year in Swaziland. The rest of the year, it is either not available or very high in price when it can only be grown on irrigated land in the warmer climate of the lowveldt. This business also can be profitable, but it has already gone through $70,000 of loans and need $60,000 more. We’re putting together a new business plan, then we’ll go with them back to the bank.
I’ve also contributed to a lot of discussions on the potential for a Swazi pork industry and the very limited potential for a dairy industry (which can only be successful with some very good market segmentation and branding). I’ve coached several people on financial analysis, made a presentation on strategic marketing and done some general management coaching. I also will facilitate a strategic planning session for the office. However, at this point, I can’t point to the kind of tangible success milestones that Wendy has had.
I knew coming into this assignment that it’s very hard to achieve demonstrable success in international development in a short period of time. That’s one reason why I wanted to make our first assignment as long as possible, given our other commitments. Development is hard. It’s like baking a cake, you need to have all of the right ingredients, and then you have to go through the right steps to make it come out right. Sometimes trying to get the last ingredient or going through the right process feels like trying to push a rope. But people who go into this type of development are motivated, optimistic and have to have a strong willingness to persevere. Even if the results aren’t tangible today, I know that there will be future tangible results from my work, and so I keep on pushing. I just don’t have much to write about in the meantime.
Nov. 1 – The 2nd TechnoServe baby since we’ve been in Swaziland
Unexpectedly yesterday, my colleague flew out of the office to take his 8+ months’ pregnant wife to the emergency room. Her water broke about 2 weeks earlier than “scheduled” but as many of us know, babies arrive on their own whim. Both the doctor in Mbabane and their OB in Nelspruit, South Africa recommended that since she had not started labor with contractions, it would be safe to drive the 2+ hours to the “superior” hospital in Nelspruit. As Atiba left the office after picking up his laptop, he looked like a “deer in the headlights.” Despite the terrible thunderstorms, dark roads at night, and a border crossing, about 24 hours later Ayla was born. TechnoServe’s 1st 2006 baby, Sean, arrived In October and already the office is predicting marriage!
October 29 – Reviewing Our Busiest Social Week Yet
This past week was filled with the most social activities, the most thunderstorms we’ve had in our 3+ months, and the launch of the first JA classes in Swaziland. We met different people for dinner Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings and lunch Sunday afternoon. We’ve had some amazing thunderstorms sometimes twice a day. Today, Sunday, hail was pea-size at our house and mothball size near our friends’ home. In between the mostly warm and humid weather varied from sunny to cloudy.
Today, we joined some other TechnoServe friends in a baby shower for Atiba and wife who are 8+ months pregnant.
Rick and I attended a fundraising dinner and auction with friends at the Malkerns Country Club. This was the 2nd dinner and auction we had attended at the Malkerns Country Club, and got just as lost trying to find it as the 1st time. The daughter is in a competitive swim club (1 of 3 in Swaziland) which is trying to build a heated, year-round kids’ training pool so they don’t have to rotate school pools of varying quality. Just that day, their daughter set a Swaziland free style swimming record for her age group. Rick met Dave, a young but retired lawyer, through TechnoServe. Now Dave and wife are having fun doing projects: she runs a chocolate candy-making shop and they are planning to open a few eco-tourism lodges connected by 4×4 roads.
Just that morning, Rick and I with 5 other volunteer trainers from TechnoServe and our Swazi partner NGO, LULOTE, simultaneously taught the 1st JA classes in Swaziland in 3 different locations. About 100 16 – 18 year old students from 9 secondary schools learned how to assess their skills, interests, and values; make informed choices and decisions; and to appreciate the consequences. We are piloting the JA Economic for Success on 3 sequential Saturday mornings to benchmark the capabilities of students from rural and urban, public and parochial schools so our longer JA programs can be more successful. I know that all of the volunteers enjoyed themselves and it seemed as though the kids did too. It was fun to see that teenagers are similar all over the world.
All of TechnoServe gathered for the graduation ceremony of the top 60 candidates from the Believe Begin Become business plan competition at the most unusual graduation venue we’ve ever attended: a disco club called the House on Fire. Building is a loose term for this series of tin roofs and caverns, nooks, crannies, sculptures and balconies. Various parts were made of wood, rocks, glass, cement, mosaic or a combination, with fire-pits in each “room.” But somehow, House on Fire proved to be a fitting location to celebrate 60 budding entrepreneurs’ completion of 5 intense weeks of workshops. Both the 60 semi-finalists and now 20 finalists will have survived the most rigorous business challenge: creating a bankable business plan, potentially to be funded either by TechnoServe’s prize money or by a local lender. All of these men and women demonstrated admirable perseverance.
We invited our “downhill” Emafini neighbors Patrick and Katherine Ward to join us to dinner. We went to the Mozambican restaurant, Kanimambo, which is my favorite restaurant in Swaziland. 3 of us had crab curry that was delicious but a great deal of work and mess because we had to crack the claws and bodies of several fresh crabs. I plan to return to ordering Kanimambo’s prawn curry–just as yummy but much less effort to shed the shells. Though Patrick and Katherine are probably 20 years younger, we had a really fun evening out.
This was our only night at home in 5 consecutive days!
We were invited to my colleague Atiba and his wife’s home for dinner with another couple whose husband is a client of Rick’s and wife heads the local Chamber of Commerce. It was amazing that they had 5 children, the oldest of whom is 18, and had accomplished so much! Both couples are very well traveled, smart, and articulate. The six of us had a very enjoyable evening with lively discussions ranging from children to politics to religion to HIV/AIDS. These are some of the best memories we are making in Swaziland.
October 22 – Hlane Royal Game Park – the 3rd of 3 Swaziland big game parks that we visited
Today we drove to Hlane Royal Game Park, one of Swaziland’s 3 “big game” parks along with Mkhaya and Mlilwane. We saw a good-sized bull elephant near the road, stopped to take his picture, then as we drove off, realized he was following the car at a rather good clip. Fortunately he veered off into the bush, but that got our hearts racing since he could have caught up with us in a hurry on that dirt road.
The only down-side to Hlane is that their having lions means that the game is sectioned off so that the park felt as though we were in a larger version of the San Diego Wild Animal Park. During the 2+ hour game drive, we saw the only cheetah we’ve seen since we’ve been in Africa in 2006, and the closest we’ve ever been to one period. We stopped less than 50 feet away from a pride of lions (1 of 3 in the park) with a large, black-mane male, several females, and 2 cubs. While we watched, 1 impala approached the water hole looking suspiciously at the lions. He almost persuaded 2 more impala friends to join him, but even though the lions were just looking their way, the impalas’ preservation instinct prevailed and they leapt away. And of course we saw a couple of my beloved warthogs. All in all, a worthwhile trip.
October 21 – Monkey Business
Ever since a Vervet monkey sat on the window sill of our house in July, I’ve been hoping to see and take pictures of these monkeys near our house. As we got out of our car at our house and walked toward our front door, the nearby mulberry tree started shaking. Out popped about 10 Vervet monkeys, one by one, stopping to look at us, then scampering toward the forest on the other side of the fence. I don’t know why these monkeys make me happy, but they do!
October 20 – Swaziland’s Golden Lion Film Festival – claimed to be the only short-film festival in the world
A couple of TechnoServe colleagues told us about the Swaziland Golden Lion Film Festival of Short Films—the only one of its kind in the world. A friend gave us his tickets because he had a conflict. So Friday night, we drove around Mbabane and eventually found the art gallery cum outdoor restaurant where we sat in plastic chairs facing a movie screen painted on the side of the building. We could have been on the set of the Italian movie, Il Paradiso, where the local citizens watched films in the town square. The festival director and our host, introduced about 7 short films and documentaries, including one he created. These 3 to 30 minute stories originated in China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and Swaziland. The Italian Under the Leaves had won the best of the festival the previous evening. During intermission, the festival director introduced himself to us, and we chatted for a while about California, being in the film industry, and the fact that he had married a Swazi woman and now “happily” lived here. It is his short film–made in Swaziland for virtually no money with 2 local boys–was the one that still haunts me. It was a good thing he warned everyone that it was shocking. Too bad the audience consisted of 10 people, because the movies were quite good.
October 14 – 15 – (M)babane to Blyde to Barberton to Boondocks to Bulembu and Back Again
These alliteratively named places are each lovely and intriguing. On Saturday, October 14th, Rick drove us on a long but beautiful trip through Blyde River Canyon, a national park in South Africa. We’re from California, so we were undaunted by what looks like a few hours of driving up and back. Four hours became almost ten with two-lane roads that are only dirt in places. We stopped frequently to sightsee till almost 4:00 p.m. As you can see on our website, Blyde River Canyon is stunning, with river views and rock formations that combine elements of Sedona (bright red rock), the Grand Canyon (huge, open, and rocky with beautiful river), Zion (narrow, carved, red) and Bryce Canyons (unique rock formations), AZ.. The narrow, red Zion-like canyon in one section looks as though some giant miners drilled down then just left the holes behind. One of the most if not the most unique is The 3 Rondevaals, thought to represent the traditional round huts in a typical local village. At our last full stop along Blyde River we walked to Mac Mac Falls, two adjacent falls tumbling 70 feet to the rest of the river below. It was supposedly named for the many Scotsman who had lived in the area.
We had booked a room at the Boondocks Bed & Breakfast, recommended by a colleague. It was past Nelspruit, the biggest South African city near Swaziland, and literally in the boondocks, about 100 km from the far end of Blyde River Canyon. Rick drove like crazy and at dusk we reached the gate where our host put us and our luggage into the back of his 4×4. Through their 1,100 hectares property, over a 4 km deeply pot-holed, dirt road, we arrived at this beautiful compound. It was a spiritual retreat, complete with a huge labyrinth for meditation. The owners had had quite a varied life until they bought the Boondocks. They had traveled multiple times to Africa and came to visit friends who wanted to buy this property, but really couldn’t afford it so our hosts bought it instead. They served a lovely dinner then tucked us into our very peaceful room for the night. After breakfast in the morning, we walked around the area, including the labyrinth they designed and laid out themselves.
Then we headed back on the road toward Barberton, a cute town near the Bulembu border of Swaziland. This is where, along with Nelspruit, some of the delightful novel The Power of One by Bruce Courtnay, supposedly occurred. We had heard that the road between Barberton and Bulembu went through amazing country but required 4-wheel drive over a bad dirt road. Heartened by the prior weekend’s trip over a similar road up to Bulembu, we figured we’d try it. This remote canyon’s spectacular views rivaled parts of Blyde River Canyon! The road was survivable—we’re in a rental car—and after driving through Bulembu, described in a previous blog, we crossed the border into Swaziland and were home in Mbabane a few hours later. Back Again…
October 8 – Bulembu B & B, a Bit of Paradise to Replace the Old Mine
Today we drove past Pigg’s Peak (a good-size village but may be considered the 4th largest Swaziland city) to the old Bulembu asbestos mine that was finally shut down about the mid-1990s. The turnoff from Pigg’s Peak became a dirt road within a few meters. We actually thought we might have missed Bulembu because we came within a couple of kilometers from the South African border post of Barberton. Until it stopped operations due to no world demand for asbestos, Bulembu was a thriving company town, which delivered its product via a clever cable car method directly over the adjacent mountain into South Africa. Now it is a ghost town, except for the recently revitalized Bed & Breakfast and a few surrounding buildings. With most of the miners’ houses lined up on a hillside as we pulled into the town, it reminded me of the ticky-tacky houses along the Daly City hills near San Francisco.
A missionary group is trying to create a new sustainable economy that will attract tourists and support a small local population. As it happens, a son of the owners of Emafini (where we live) is an active missionary and a Bulembu Board Member. We stopped in front of the Bulembu B & B then walked through the newly planted gardens to the Reception area. We were greeted by a white man also entering the building. It turned out that he was part of a small church group from Arizona to help the local Swazis here. Of the 2 other friends who joined him a few minutes later, one had worked for Intel Corp. for 20 years including in Santa Clara, CA for 6 months. Rick and I sat down for a very late lunch and they returned to their volunteer jobs. Such a small, small world…
We visited a few of the abandoned mine buildings, drove back down the long dirt road, passed again through the thriving metropolis of Pigg’s Peak, and returned to the civilized world of Mbabane.
October 6 – Nairobi Back to Matsapha but with a Different Perspective
Our flight from Nairobi took off at 7:20 am so we left the hotel at 5:00am. Arriving home 8 hours later, I decided to stay at home while Rick went to the office for a few hours. With only minimal energy left and as is typical of many nights, Rick and I surfed the satellite TV channels and watched old sitcom re-runs and parts of old movies. We starting with a bit of “Police Academy” then on my own, I watched “The Interpreter” again. This story is about a U.N. language interpreter played by Nicole Kidman, whose character emigrated from an imaginary country in southern Africa then somehow became embroiled in the assassination of several African leaders from her old country. Seeing it for the second time but being in Swaziland now was truly eerie. The tale of power corrupting the maybe-well-intentioned revolutionaries is all too familiar in Africa.
In contrast, it was so inspiring to spend 3 days with JA colleagues from all over Africa who shared their passion and energy for their countries’ youth, especially in the face of the political instability, HIV/AIDS, and global neglect. It is very humbling to know what these JA people have survived, and now seeing them change their countries and give hope to the youth. Ironically, I next watched part of a Hallmark channel movie about the Holocaust. The story was told from the perspective of a young girl who fainted at a modern-day Seder, then experienced a concentration camp through a dream, like a very distorted version of Dorothy in the Land of Oz. Tonight’s movies confirmed what I had learned throughout this week that determined survival of the human spirit is absolutely amazing.
October 5 – Day 3 at the JA Africa Conference
JA people were definitely the highlight of the Africa Conference. It was a privilege and delight to spend time with the 20 various JA country managers and staff. The challenges these energetic Africans must overcome daily to make an impact on their countries make the stresses of JA U.S. and Europe seem quite small. Particularly memorable are Phil and Robert from Zimbabwe whose humor kept us laughing for 3 days, and who have made JA successful despite their political environment. Jules—a great dancer—from the Democratic Republic of the Congo still must start up JA despite the uncertainty of the upcoming 1st-time DRC democratic elections. Luciano from Angola will need all his pastoral skills and spiritual perspective while starting up JA there after so many years of instability. Quiet and shy Teddy from Zambia has persisted over the last few years to serve a few hundred JA students annually. At our JA Africa “Graduation” the 2 women from Nigeria, Franca and Kunbi, were dressed in traditional costumes including the wrapped headgear. They were gorgeous and put everyone in a festive mood. Each person alphabetically announced the recognition for the next—I was introduced by John Wali from Kenya—no relation to us. 2 of the 3 special awards went to the Swaziland team: Atiba was the person who asked the most questions and Thulani was the quietest. It was wonderful how Mrs. Gamedze was respected by Lamech (who called her Senator) and the other JA Africa leaders, and clearly Atiba and Thulani bonded with their peers. This bodes well for our Swaziland youth program. This event was typical of all JA events I’ve attended–very long, intense, and satisfying despite 8am to 9 or 10 pm daily schedule. We all learned a lot from each other. There really is hope for the future of Africa with people like these.
October 3 – Day 3 at the JA Africa Conference in Nairobi, Kenya
After a very long day on Monday, October 2nd flying from Matsapha, Swaziland, through Johannesburg, South Africa, to Nairobi, Kenya (yes, not a very direct route), Mrs. Gamedze and Thulani from LULOTE and Atiba and I could only muster enough energy for a quick dinner in our hotel.
October 3rd was the 1st day of JA conference, and we heard country reports for all 9 member nations and a couple of pilot countries as well as a panel discussion by 3 of the JA Kenya Board of Directors. Dinner was sponsored by JA Kenya Board Chairman, Bill Lay, who is CEO of GM East Africa. A bus drove us to Carnivore restaurant at Safari Park Lodge about 25 minutes (45 in traffic) away from the Intercontinental Hotel. Crocodile was tasty. Camel and goat were dry though I’d try goat again. My salads for lunch were not enough to offset that huge serving of protein, which was enough to last for a week,. The nightclub show with about 8 female and 8 male dancers was part Broadway, part cultural village. Every male had incredible 6-pack bodies and were probably not gay, unlike 98% of male dancers in the US. The part Broadway could have been skipped but I think the Chinese and other tourists liked that part. The tribal cultural village dancing was excellent and fun.
Sept. 30 – Dinner with the Frogs
Since I insisted we go home after the workshop day at City Inn so that I could use our bathroom (see blog entry below), we missed going food shopping (closes 6pm), so Rick came up with a few suggestions for going out to dinner. We chose Finesse, located in the Emphalwini Mall and owned by the same people as the Portofino restaurant, also in the mall and where we often grabbed lunch. Rick and I had been to Finesse for lunch and noted the updated and interesting menu. As we sat out on the veranda next to the river, waiting for our wine and dinner, we were serenaded by the local frogs. I’m talking large and small size FROGS with a huge vocal range and volume. More like very loud versions of kids’ party, cranking noise-makers. Dinner was quite good and amusing with the major frog symphony next to us. Though most of people in upscale restaurants are white (part of the 1% in Swaziland), there are usually at least a few Swazi “yuppies”. Tonight was no exception, with a group of 2 young women and 3 or 4 young men, smoking, drinking beer and enjoying themselves. The good news that struck me was that they seemed financially pretty well off. The bad news is based the projected 42% or higher HIV/AIDS rate, maybe 2 of them would not reach their late 30s.
We drove home, parked the car, and walked to our cottage. A little frog, cousin of the river gang, hopped across our path but was very quiet for the moment. So Rick and I went inside, to watch on our satellite TV the last half of about three old movies including 1st Wives Club and Dirty Harry.
Sept. 30 – Supporting the TechnoServe Saturday Workshop
As promised to Nelo, TechnoServe’s Manager for the Believe Begin Become (BBB) business plan competition, we went downtown to the City Inn to help her with the BBB workshop. Although all the workshops were supposed to be at the Mountain Inn, a last minute, paid wedding for 300 supplanted our donated space, but the manager arranged for us to get free meeting rooms at their sister hotel. However, these facilities are much down-scale from Mountain Inn as well as being in Mbabane’s downtown. I went with Nelo upstairs to the Business Strategy workshop, taught by her sister-in-law, and Rick was downstairs at the Finance workshop. I had thankfully brought my own bottle of water because the upstairs room was quite warm without air conditioning and only tired fans barely moving the air. Early in the workshop, Nelo introduced me after I had commented on a couple of topics, and I immediately become “the expert” who was assigned to teach the “competitive matrix” section of the morning. This was fine and actually fun, though like teaching JA in East San Jose I was not sure I was completely understood and participants may have been too shy to ask all their questions,
The audience’s levels of business ability and knowledge varied as greatly as their business plan ideas that had qualified them to the semi-finals. I was concerned when one young man seemed to question the need for ethics when trying to assess market competitors, saying “you just gotta do what you have to do to win.” With Nelo’s blessing, I approached him at the break and mentioned that everyone in the room was a potential customer or supplier or even competitor, and that he needed to be aware of building his reputation. He seemed to take it in the spirit that I intended—for his benefit. At the end of the workshop, a couple of people came up to thank me and see if I could review their business plan, which I declined due to conflict of interest.
Sept. 27 – Rabbis in Rhythm Rock the Swaziland Business Woman of the Year Event
To show our support for the country, business community and women entrepreneurs, TechnoServe purchased a table for the Swaziland Business Woman of the Year event. 300 people attended this Gala held at the Convention Center of the Royal Swazi Hotel & Spa. We arrived a bit after 7pm to find Lisa, our office Manager in the lobby. She introduced us to a few people, including Sylvia, a finalist for the award who was dressed in a bright yellow and white dress with an absolutely fabulous, African-tied turban in silver and white.
After sipping what looked like it should have been champagne but tasted like sweet sparkling grape juice, the 3 of us went upstairs and met up with Leslie, Mkhululi, Mpendulo, Sonnyboy, Nelo, Nolwazi, and Debbie. The ceremonies started about 7:30 or 7:45, with a Lindulile (?) Dlamini as Director of Ceremonies. On the table were a bottle of red wine that our group had already started and little “amuse bouche” of chopped liver in a puff pastry with a chili couli. It’s a good thing–because the first round of speakers went on for over an hour before the salad was served. Protocol is critically important here so EVERYONE of stature must be formally acknowledged by EVERY speaker, which adds at least 5 to 10 minutes to every speech. The Director of Ceremonies tried hard to keep the agenda on time, but it started slipping from the beginning. After salad, the next round of speakers began. The Prime Minister was in Singapore “at the last minute” to represent Nedbank, so the Acting Prime Minister was his event substitute. After the litany of acknowledgements, this nice older Swazi gentleman admitted that he could not give his planned longer speech because his glasses had broken. We restrained our excitement when he finished in less than 15 minutes!
The 2006 Business Woman of the Year from South Africa, Angela Dick, was definitely the most impressive speaker and person there. Although she is white, she called herself a Woman of Africa, because of her businesses’ struggles and her being so poor that she was not sure she could feed her 5 kids when they were young. We thought she built her credibility well with a 98% black audience, and focused her final message on raising our girl-children to be independent, capable, strong, and believing that they could do whatever they chose. With a tough-in-business yet kind-to-people style, she was a great example running a major temp worker agency in South Africa.
After the Minister of Enterprise’s remarks and after the five finalists’ videos were played, the entrée was served about 10:15 pm. The Director of Ceremonies kept trying to lighten up the tone with these “stories” which were really more like cute long-ish jokes. “Supposedly behind every successful woman there’s a man…but behind every successful man there are several women.” “Success is relative…when you are successful, relatives come from everywhere to find you.”
During all breaks and sometimes between speeches, the Rabbis in Rhythm, a band of 3 men and a female singer, played. Odd name for this group since they were all black, though the singer was pretty light-colored. Apparently the band had been started by a Jewish man, but funny, no one there remotely resembled a Jew unless they were originally from Ethiopia. They were a good rock band with African and maybe Brazilian music woven in.
2 of he 5 finalists were to be recognized: 1 “corporate” and 1 entrepreneur (from a large, not SME-sized business). With only 1 “corporate” nominee, the winner was obvious. But the 2006 Woman Business Entrepreneur was Sylvia, the hat lady, who even with the required litany of acknowledgements gave a short, sweet, to-the-point speech. She thanked God, her decent and supportive husband, and the other women, colleagues, friends and family who had supported her. Period. 11:15 the event ended.
During dinner, TechnoServe’s table was definitely the rowdiest (except we weren’t rude during speeches), and we all enjoyed the music of the Rabbis in Rhythm. Funny, they didn’t look Jewish. Despite the Director of Ceremonies defining Rabbi as “the Jewish Priest,” they were one of the best parts of the evening, along with the fun company of our colleagues.
Sept. 22- Two Month Milestone in Mbabane and JA is Being Born in Swaziland
It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here two months already! We are settled into a routine, enjoy our colleagues, find the work mostly satisfying, and feel at home in our cottage in Emafini. The hardest part is being away from family and friends, though Adrian’s visit was an absolutely wonderful gift. We’re making good acquaintances and having amazing experiences, but we can only share these from a distance with the people we love and miss.
We hope to accomplish a lot in the next 3 months. I’ve been very fortunate to have fallen into a role that perfectly matches my previous work at Junior Achievement. A key TechnoServe Swaziland goal is to start an Emerging Entrepreneurship program with youth in school all the way through adults in their 30s and 40s. So this week, I am very proud to announce that JA’s Vice President of Africa sent out an email to JA Worldwide that the Democratic Republic of Congo is the 9th JA Member Nation in Africa, and Swaziland and Gambia have become JA affiliates. TechnoServe will build the capacity of a local NGO, called LULOTE, who will be trained to become responsible for our School-Age Youth Entrepreneurship (SAYE) program for 16 to 24 year olds. We will pilot the JA Company Program starting in late October, then add JA Job Shadowing and JA Service Learning in 2007 and maybe a JA Company Student Competition in early 2008. By the end of 2010, we plan to have served over 7,500 SAYE students.
Sept. 18 – Maputo, Mozambique is a Far Cry from Cape Town in More Than Distance
By 7:00 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15th, Rick and I joined our boss Leslie, her husband Stuart and their adorable 1-year old son Charlie (as of today) on their drive to Maputo. Leslie had worked for TechnoServe in Mozambique and Maputo for 3 years, so she and Stuart knew more people there to fill Charlie’s birthday bash than if they stayed in Mbabane. We got to enjoy their company, help prepare, then experience another “braai” (aka barbeque), and got to meet some of their ex-pat and local friends who were really nice people.
In the late afternoon, we and Trish, another TechnoServe volunteer who’s our bio-fuel expert, got into a taxi to head to her apartment and our hotel. In Africa, we’ve observed that typically you call the same taxi drivers again and again once you know they are reliable—and honest. We arrived at the Holiday Inn overlooking the Indian Ocean, only to find that they had not “saved” us a sea-viewing room despite our reservation because we had not guaranteed it with our credit card. One clerk agreed to try for one the next night, but couldn’t promise. Only when we pushed hard, did the room price come down to a non-ocean view rate. We were pretty full from eating and imbibing most of the afternoon, so mostly we read and relaxed. If Leslie hadn’t given us a ride, I would’ve been perfectly happy to postpone our trip for a few weeks. Just chilling was fine.
After breakfast the next morning on Sunday, we checked on a room-change again, which seemed hopeful but until everyone checked out, still no promises. So Rick and I went for a long walk on the so-called promenade along the beaches and harbor. A clear blue tropical beach with white sands and picturesque sailboats anchored offshore…NOT. The ocean foamed with silt (or worse), litter piled on the beach and the literally broken-up promenade with missing cement benches. It made me imagine maybe Cuba or Haiti outside of the isolated resorts. With the humidity, by the time we got back to the hotel, we were dripping with sweat. Finally we moved into an ocean-facing room, changed into dry clothes, and took a taxi downtown to follow a walking trail recommended in the guidebook.
Maputo is a classically poor city in a still-poor country. A decade ago, Mozambique had been a Communist dictatorship with a 20-year long rebellion against the Frelimo Party, in power since independence. Many streets were named after famous Communists or celebrations of battles, like September 25th Avenue. After walking a couple hours throughout the downtown littered streets and sidewalks broken into pieces or just missing in many places, we noted the first really clean area near City Hall and the main Cathedral. There are interesting remnants of Portuguese colonial influence in some architecture, an old fort, and a few restaurants. Sadly, some neighborhoods have shells of buildings that are abandoned, as though they may have been burned down. Similar to Adrian’s description of his deserted-city feelings while walking around Maputo the previous Sunday, we grew to feel very conspicuous among the few people we saw. So we took a taxi back to our safe, tourist world of the Holiday Inn, where we could look out over a relatively clean beach at the sun sinking into the Indian Ocean.
Dinner was at Costa del Sol, a restaurant that reminded me of Two Sisters’ Restaurant on Dominica but with a Mediterranean flair and a colorful local history since about 1930. We sat at a table on the veranda, but soon it started to rain so we went inside. As we partook of gigantic and even bigger prawns fresh from the ocean (hopefully waaaaay off shore), nature put on an amazing fireworks display of impressive lightening strikes and thunder over the ocean, very nearby. This closed out an interesting day…
The next morning, we taxied over to TechnoServe Mozambique’s main office in Maputo to meet with the Managing Director, Jake Walters, who with his wife Patricia had also attended Charlie’s birthday party. Definitely a big picture guy, he gave us his background (he grew up mostly in Brazil so spoke fluent Portuguese) and told us about his moving his family to Maputo 9 years ago from Wisconsin where he had been an executive in a cattle breeding business. His vision for helping Mozambique is fascinating and clearly his projects are very worthwhile. We thanked Jake for his time, left the office after an hour to be driven to the border of Swaziland by TechnoServe Mozambique’s driver who escorted us through both customs stops, then handed us over to our Swazi office driver, Kiki. The whole trip took about 3 hours. I was really glad to be back “home” at the office and then Emafini.
Sept. 12 – Miscellaneous Update
Adrian Takes a Brief Trip to Maputo, Mozambique then Back to Reality
which are chronicled in his blog. We had similar reactions when we visited Maputo a few days later, as we described above. Suffice it to say, if Cape Town is European, Maputo is low-end Caribbean. Adrian’s hectic and widely varied adventures in Africa ended too soon for all 3 of us. Tuesday, 12 Sept. he drove back to Jo-burg, flew to Amsterdam, and then arrived in Boston on 13 Sept. We miss him already.
We Attended a Reception for a Fulbright Scholar Hosted by the American Embassy
Which sounds much more high-falutin’ than it was. Stuart Monroe, Head of the Business Department at the University of Denver, has been given a Fulbright Scholarship (at least his 2nd!) to help update the Commerce Dept. at the University of Swaziland, acronym’d here as UNISWA. He met with TechnoServe a few days after his arrival to discuss our Believe Begin Become Business Plan Competition. He’s trying to motivate some of the students in his classes to volunteer with our youth and pre-startup entrepreneur training activities as well as wants us to work with the University in other ways.
The U.S. Embassy, with no Ambassador now for about a year, hosted a reception for Stuart and his wife. TechnoServe along with a number of local V.I.P.s were there, including Dr. Joubert, the UNISWA Commerce Dept. Chair, who had requested Stuart’s 10-month stay. We had already met her and her colleague Nomsa, who are very nice and I think are considered the go-getters in their world. Stuart is enthusiastic, well-intentioned, and bright yet realistic about his likely uphill battle. He still hopes—along with Dr. Joubert, the Vice Chancellor, and the new CEO of UNISWA Foundation–to have some impact.
We chatted with a few people including the Embassy PR Director whose home hosted the reception. When he welcomed Stuart, he added a somber note about yesterday being the 5th anniversary of Sept. 11th.
Amazingly, the young Swazi man who had re-arranged Adrian’s costume at the Reed Dance introduced himself to us. He realized that we wouldn’t recognize him, especially since he was in a sports jacket, slacks, etc. We found out that he had just completed law school in South Africa and planned to take his “bar exam” next spring. Really funny and ironic that an African law graduate helped properly dress an American law graduate in ritual Swazi costume. What are the odds they would meet?
Sept. 10 – Cape Town Reminds Us of San Francisco! Is it a Future Gourmet Group Outing?
Our trip to Cape Town started off with a bit of anxiety. We had decided to save over US$900 (combined for all of us) by driving to Jo’burg and then flying to Cape Town rather than flying directly from Swaziland. While the drive from Mbabane to Jo’burg is supposed to take 3.5 hours according to our Swazi friends, the twice I’ve driven it is more like 5 hours. We thought we’d left enough time before our 3:30pm flight to Cape Town, but going through Ermelo near the end of the trip proved extremely confusing—and time-consuming. We did manage to arrive in time for our flight, but with bated breath. As we drove near the Jo’burg airport then later from the Cape Town airport to the hotel, we passed by a number depressing views: huge, dirty, crowded shanty towns made from wood, mud or corrugated tin, with roofs held down by bricks and stones. Education, opportunity, and wealth are still missing for the majority of Africans. South Africa is a beautiful developing country with the veneer of the 1st world. Sobering and sad, Africa is a continent whose access to its great potential is still limited for most of its people.
We did have a short, smooth flight on the South African equivalent to the old Southwest Airlines: Kulula.com. The main flight attendant was trying to be a stand-up comic, and we did get free soda, despite the warning that nothing was served free on Kulula.com. By the time we arrived at the Ambassador hotel in Bantry Bay in the evening, we had survived more directional challenges. We dropped our luggage in our room and headed to a nice fish dinner at the picturesque Victoria & Albert Wharf—the South African version of Pier 39 in SF.
The next morning as we looked out on the ocean at Bantry Bay, we realized that Cape Town is similar in many ways to SF with its ocean views, mountains nearby, cosmopolitan attractions, and very diverse population. And like SF, Cape Town suffers from fog. This meant we postponed our visit to the top of scenic Table Mountain along the edge of the city because it was covered in its “tablecloth.” So instead we took a truly delightful tour around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. Towns along the way were a colorful combination of British names (e.g., Scarborough, Simon’s Town, and Bantry Bay) and Dutch/Afrikaans (like Noordhoek, Wilteboom, and Kommatije). One of the day’s early fun experiences was having a personal tour of an ostrich farm, where Rick and Adrian were able to hold a prickly, quite squirmy baby ostrich.
We drove along Chatham Peak Drive (similar in its rugged beauty to Carmel’s 17-mile Drive), then drove further south and took a brisk, steep walk to the top of Cape of Good Hope. According to a police officer we could not park in the main area because “The President of Russia was coming along soon.” We remembered that Vladimir Putin was visiting South Africa to collaborate on nuclear energy, among other things. Other than a limo in the parking lot, there was no sight of him. So we drove to Cape Point, supposed to be the southern-most point of Africa where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. While it’s an absolutely beautiful spot, the actual southern-most point dividing the 2 oceans is Cape Agulhas 300km further east. At the Cape Point parking lot there were lots of police and the attendants at the funicular train said it was closed for repair. Actually the 2 train cars, counter-balanced so one must go up and the other down were being held for President Putin. So Adrian, Rick and I huffed and puffed to the top of this peak. We knew that Putin was definitely coming based on the small horde of photographers hovering nearby as well as the “broken” funicular. Indeed, within 15 minutes of our arrival at the top, up went the train-car and out at the top popped Vladimir Putin with his own gaggle of serious men in dark suits. Vlad was the shortest man in his entourage—we did get a good glimpse of him from about 25 feet away. And definitely he’s very somber and unapproachable. Within less than 10 minutes, he was whisked down the mountain and driven to his next photo opp, leaving behind a large wake of security people. It was truly a kick to see the man who was head of the once-second-most-powerful country in the world.
One of our last stops on the coast was Boulders Park, a small preserved oasis embedded in a suburb of Cape Town, which is home to a breeding colony of African Penguins. We found out why these waddling birds are also called “Jackass” Penguins when one of them, apparently upset, began loudly braying like a donkey. Very unlikely loud sound for such a small funny bird.
We crossed the Cape Peninsula to return to the hotel. The drive to dinner was our next adventure. When I called the restaurant, I was told it was near the Mt. Nelson Hotel off “Owens Drive.” Silly me, I thought that a landmark like the Mt. Nelson would be easy to get directions to. Do not trust desk clerks who probably don’t travel much by car. Instead of 10 minutes, it took several directions stops, much turning around, streets with different names from what I heard, and 45 minutes later we arrived at Aubergine. After a stiff drink, we relaxed and enjoyed a great Nouvelle French dinner. The ride back was uneventful, thank goodness.
Thursday was a clear morning, so off we went to the Table Mountain tram for a view of the city, oceans, mountains, etc. When Rick had visited 20 years earlier, the tram cars were about 25% of the size today, but view is still the same—gorgeous. From there we toured the main city by car and foot. Highlights included the downtown’s look and feel being like an early 20th century European city with its “Cape Dutch” architecture and the East India Company Gardens; the lovely Rosebanks section; High Tea at the Mt. Nelson Hotel; Parliament area; and the Jewish Museum built around the old Synagogue completed in 1905 (thank you, Burwens, for the tip). There we learned about the fascinating role Jews played in building South Africa and fighting apartheid. In fact, Nelson Mandela, against all odds due to his race, was hired as a Law Clerk by a Cape Town Jewish lawyer, with whom he stayed friends during and after prison. Tonight’s dinner at The Five Flies was easier to locate and just as good.
On Friday Adrian chose to live out a dream/fantasy on his own. He arranged for a trip off the coast to “swim with Great White Sharks” (in a steel cage) and view Southern Right Whales. Rick and I took a calmer, more delicious route to Winelands, the South African Napa Valley. Similar to Napa and San Francisco, Winelands is just an hour away from the Cape Town yet feels like a different planet. We rolled through green hills and valleys like the Dutch or German countryside, dotted with cows, vineyards, and about 100 wineries. This area was founded about 300 years ago by the French Huguenots, so wine has been part of the region long before California.
We had a tough time choosing the 4 wine estates we could visit near Stellenbosch. We first stopped at Vergelegen (pronounced amazingly like someone clearing his throat), one of the older wineries, though not continuously producing. Our guide took about 10 of us on a tour of the latest winery: a beautiful Dutch Cape farm, huge compound of buildings, and wonderful wine. Its volatile history proves the old wine adage true. “How do you make a little money in the wine business? Spend a lot.” We traveled for a late delicious lunch to Tokara Winery where we sat on the veranda overlooking a breathtaking terraced vineyard, with farm machinery at work maintaining the field road. Only 6 years old, this winery was named after the family’s 2 children, Tom and Kara. Again, they had made their money elsewhere first. The 3rd winery where we bought more red wine was another picture-perfect farm estate, Rustenberg. The final stop was South African golf champion Ernie Els’ new winery, recommended by the Vergelegen tour guide to at least visit. Set with a backdrop of rocky mountain peaks, up a green knoll, Ernie’s winery showed that his golf winnings were lavishly spent on lovely, starkly-designed buildings and grounds. Couldn’t tell about the wine because we got there too late to taste. Oh well. The drive back was delightful and we had 7 bottles of red wine not available in Swaziland to look forward to drinking! This is definitely a trip that the Gourmet Group would enjoy!
Sept. 4 – The Walleighs in Costume for the Reed Dance Then are Pictured in the Swazi Times newspaper
Sept. 2nd through 4th was Umhlanga, the National Swaziland Celebration of the Reed Dance. The first day girls gather from across the country to gather reeds then walk back to present them to the Queen Mother to “repair her home.” The 3rd day, the King views literally over 40,000 of these virgins who hope he’ll choose one as his 14th or 15th wife. Traditionally, the young women paraded and danced completely naked, but modern morals now dictate that they wear very short or very long skirts. Let’s be honest, Rick and Adrian wanted to attend to watch the mostly bare-breasted women. I’m going along for “the cultural experience” including dressing up in Swazi costume!
Both the Swazi women and men in the office strongly encouraged us to attend in traditional costume. So Wendy shopped with Lisa, our Office Manager, and Rick and Adrian with Mkhululi, a TechnoServe business advisor. Wendy’s costume had a colorful bead necklace in a traditional pattern, a white yarn headband, red and blue Swazi flags layered and knotted on top like sari, as well as a long black skirt (traditionally leather, but now heavy cloth). The important pieces in the traditional male outfit are the colorful bead necklace, a long bright cloth wrapped around the torso and knotted to cover the right shoulder, two sarong-type skirts (not matching the top cloth) knotted around the waist to expose the right leg, and a furry loincloth worn over the skirts. The loincloths each came from two impala hindquarters, which meant that there was a tail bump suggestively protruding from the center of the loincloths. At least Rick and Adrian didn’t have to wear the traditional underclothing–supposedly a hollowed out gourd tied on with a leather thong…
Mkhululi graciously agreed to accompany us to the celebration. So before we left for Kruger, we arranged to meet at his house on Monday at 9:00 am. Mkhululi called that morning as we were finishing up the struggle to properly attire ourselves by making comparisons to various pictures in the newspaper, magazines and guidebooks. He said, “I have bad news. I called my father this morning to borrow some of his traditional clothing. He asked me what for. I said that I needed it to go to the Umhlanga. He said, sorry, but the ceremony was yesterday…Rick, I am so, so sorry.”
Rick and Adrian were crushed. While it wasn’t a huge amount of money, we had spent several hundred dollars to dress authentically. And despite being in Swaziland at the right time for Umhlanga, we had missed it. Mkhululi felt terrible and suggested that we go to the King’s lands where the young women were staying and the festival was held, just see if there were any activities planned for today. This made a lot of sense because in Swaziland, schedules for things like this are not well specified or publicized in advance–in fact, the actual Umhlanga date was only decided and published a few weeks ago. Puzzling, since if it were based on the Sun or the Moon, it certainly could be calculated years in advance. But I guess it helps retain some mystery. More importantly, someone retains their sense of importance by determining the date.
Back in our regular clothes we drove to Mkhululi’s new house. His wife Katie was exhausted from doing most of the moving and furniture arranging over the last couple of days while he was at work. So Mkhululi let her rest and brought his one-year old daughter, Ayanza, along with us for the short drive to the King’s lands. Close to the main festival site we began to see lots of young women and temporary, open infrastructure for them. It looked like a circus packing up or the end of a Girl Scout “camporee,” but with significant differences. As we crossed a small river on a one-lane bridge, down below we could see dozens of young women washing their clothes and themselves. The Girls Scouts would definitely not approve of bathing completely and comfortably naked in full view of passers-by.
We arrived at a makeshift parking lot outside the gates to the King’s Ezulwini residence, where there was a gaggle of police officers chatting together. Mkhululi asked one if anything official was happening today and came back with good news. Yesterday the girls had presented the reeds to the Queen Mother. However, today was the parade and dancing for the king starting at 2:00pm (“Africa time”)!
After a few errands, lunch and changing back into our Swazi clothes, we drove to Mkhululi’s house again. Now Ayanza and Katie both would go with us to the Reed dance. Mkhululi coached Rick and Adrian on their attire so now their two skirts were knotted together at the ends of the cloth rather than held with safety pins, as had been the case this morning and was still true of the cloth around the torso.
We piled into two cars and headed back to the stadium at the King’s residence. Our arrival felt as though we were at an important high school football game in a small Texas town. In fact, as we entering the stadium Adrian and Rick got personal fashion tips! Two young men approached them to say that they appreciated the effort but now would help correct the outfits’ errors. Adrian had the most glaring problem: his torso wrap covered his left shoulder rather than the right, which is proper. Rick’s right shoulder was covered, but by using safety pins, which are taboo. The young men unwrapped Adrian on the spot, and showed both how to knot the cloth correctly to hold it in place. After thanking the Swazis and taking some pictures, we walked toward seats.
The stadium seated about five thousand spectators, but the central area was over three times the size of a normal football field. The closest stands were next to the King’s reviewing area so were full. We walked past thousands of half-naked young women lined up for their parade. We tried not to stare at them, and though they tried not to, they stared at us also. We were among 1% of 4,000 spectators who were white and the only white family we saw in traditional dress! Boy, talk about standing out! But people seemed very positive toward us, which made us feel good about our decision to dress traditionally, especially with help from the young Swazi men.
The Queen Mother then the King arrived and walked up a red carpet, kicking off the actual event. These really were not like Olympics’ Closing Ceremonies. The youngest girls (under 8?) were escorted first, then all the royal daughters and cousins. The remaining over 40,000 costumed young women, divided into local groups, paraded around the stadium while singing until it was their turn to dance for the king. After that only a very knowledgeable Swazi maybe could tell which group was from what home town…
Though we left before the parade concluded and the competitive singing started, we were glad we attended this unique cultural event. But we now understood why Mkhululi hadn’t been in ten years. On our way out, an attractive woman asked us to pose for a picture with a fashionable younger woman (maybe her daughter). A week later we heard we made the local newspaper. The caption under our color photo congratulated whoever had helped the tourists to dress so authentically!
Sept. 3 – Back from Kruger Park with Adrian
On Friday, Sept. 1st we took off work and went to Kruger Park with Adrian. Kruger central reservations indicated all facilities in the southern end of the park were booked for Saturday night, so I reserved at a park facility for Friday night. That way I could easily justify Saturday night at a bush camp within a private game reserve. The openings in northern Kruger were not practical. Most people don’t realize that Kruger Park is the size of the state of Massachusetts. While it’s a two hour drive on the Massachusetts turnpike from Boston to the western border of the state, at 30 miles per hour on 1.5 lane roads, going near Kruger’s northern gate was not practical!
Those who know me well understand that my wanting to go to a bush camp means that we are not talking about a night in a back-packers’ tent. The private game reserves border the park so have access to viewing the same game (the wild animals don’t know if they’re on private or government land). I called several–Rick rejected the first which charged $550 per person per night but would give us the local rate of only $400 per person per night because we lived in Swaziland. We later heard about another that charges $1,000 per person per night. We settled on Nottens Bush Camp which only charged $200 per person per night including all meals, two game drives and a nature walk. However, this was a small, family type operation that couldn’t accept credit cards. That meant we had to have nearly 6000 South African Rands, in cash, in addition to our miscellaneous spending money. This is more than two thirds of our combined monthly stipend! Fortunately, it was the beginning of the month, and our next monthly stipend was due. We would just ask to get it in Rands instead of Emalangeni. Then for the rest of the month, we could find Swazi ATMs that accept international cards.
Despite the best laid plans to get an early start on Friday, we had to wait for our 1st of the month stipend payment from the local bank. Plus, even though we had requested our money in South Africa Rands, the bank had given Swazi Emalangeni! In Swaziland, Rands are readily accepted at full value for any transaction, but in South Africa, the reverse is not necessarily true. So we went down to our small bank branch, got in a line nearly out the door, then waited to exchange for Rands. Because it was the end of a pay period everyone was waiting to cash their checks, they only had 5000 in 50 rand notes. Rick and I stuffed our pockets with 100 bills of 50 rand with plans to hit an ATM in South Africa, and we were off!
After an uneventful ride to Kruger, we drove to Crocodile Bridge, one of two southern-most entrances, to check in for the night and book a game drive. Again, not so simple. Though I thought I had booked a reservation, I had not received a confirmation or a number, and my subsequent phone calls to the park proved fruitless—and now very painful. We had no reservation and the park was completely booked. The park people here were actually sympathetic and helped find a private lodge with an opening, just outside the park gate.
The lodge was more of a camp type facility with some individual chalets, some camping spots, and an opening at their common group facility. We checked out this “opening” by driving just behind the young manager riding his bicycle for about two hundred yards. We walked into the small, concrete block bunk house or hostel with a big front porch and a small kitchen area, but we were assured that we would have the whole room to ourselves. The bathrooms were outside but looked clean. It was not the Ritz, but we had a place to stay for the night. The $17 per person should have been the dead giveaway…
We drove back into the park, booked our game drive for the evening and then drove around looking at game on our own for two hours. We saw lots of game both in the afternoon in our own car and later as we froze for 3 hours in the back of the open Land Rover. It was especially good for Adrian as this was the first time that he had seen game up close, outside of a zoo and the tiny Swazi game preserve. After the evening game drive, we drove out of the park 5 miles into the closest town, Komatiesport (sp?) for a great dinner at a Portuguese restaurant. This end of Kruger is very close to Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony and retains a lot of Portuguese influence.
We returned to our lodgings, took our bags in, and began to get ready for bed. As we were unpacking and chatting, we were shocked to hear a voice request, “Can you keep it down in there?” We then noticed the voice was coming from behind the door at the back of the kitchen area, and immediately envisioned people walking through our bedroom in the middle of the night. But it was just an adjoining room with a locked door between. Thank goodness Adrian had a sleeping bag liner with him (I will not make fun of his gadgets and gear again!) so I could sleep cleanly on top of the bed. In the morning we shared the bathrooms on the porch with the people camping around our building.
As soon as possible, we packed up to drive through the park toward the private game reserve, a significant distance away. And when you’re looking for animals, you drive slowly, stop, and look when the game appears. It took us over four hours to get to the Sabi Sands Game Reserve with the last forty-five minutes on a dirt entrance road. However, it was worth it. The beautifully architected, elegantly manicured camp consisted of only several very nicely furnished kraals with total accommodations for about twenty people. One side of the camp including the dining area and some kraals looked directly over a wall to the game area. We saw some giraffes and warthogs while we enjoyed afternoon tea. A weekend highlight was showering in our own private outdoor shower that also opened onto the game area–like a deluxe Carmel or Napa Valley lodge, but with animals. The only other guests were a couple of young professors from Harvard by way of Russia and Israel, and Gerald Hoberman, a photographer known for publishing beautiful picture books which we saw later in gift shops. He was photographing Nottens to be included in his next book, “The Top Bush Camps in South Africa.”
With any game drive the outcome is unpredictable, which every game driver emphasizes in his or her standard speech. Whether in a private reserve or Kruger proper, the amount of money you pay does not guarantee that you will see all of the animals you want. We did stop for “sundowners” (gin & tonic, wine, etc.) while we watched the sun sink over the savannah. After the drive, we dined outdoors next to a campfire, with the elegance of a fine restaurant yet the feel of a camping safari. We were then escorted back to our cabins, as management required, because hyenas come into the camp at night. And actually the previous morning there had been a rebellious young bull elephant tearing up the garden and chasing the staff. With a purposeful lack of electricity here, the oil lights already lit in our room just made our luxurious chalet more romantic.
The best animal viewing is early morning and early evening. With the sun rising earlier, we got up at 5:30 am to have our tea before heading out at 6: 00 for our 2nd game drive. The morning ride was more productive than the prior evening, but not spectacular until after two hours the guides spotted a lot of fresh dung. They didn’t communicate to us, but they seemed excited and began tracking the dung trail. We raced down a number of trails and had to reverse course several times. Finally we came upon a herd of about fifty Cape Buffalo—one of the African Big Five. We just pulled up slowly and parked in the middle of them while they grazed and ignored us. And we just reveled in our up- close African adventure. Back at the camp we had a sumptuous breakfast and took a guided nature walk. We then drove back through the park to Mbabane, seeing more game. What a fantastic weekend overall!
Aug. 30 – Adrian Arrives!
Adrian flew on Aug. 28 to Amsterdam and arrived in Jo’burg, South Africa where he spent the night. His first big adventure was just driving 4.5 hours to Swaziland—all on the wrong side of the road with a manual transmission car–and crossing the borders of both South African and Swaziland within 100 feet of each other. He arrived at the TechnoServe office in Mbabane then we guided him to our house in Emafini. We went to dinner at a Portuguese restaurant with our boss, Leslie, and her husband Stuart and a TechnoServe Volunteer who was leaving Swaziland after a month.
Adrian’s trip to visit us in Africa was opportunistic AND educational. This trip was his first to an officially developing country vs. the Soviet Union which until its downfall the world thought was one of the most powerful nations on earth. After all, what better way to prepare to become a public interest lawyer than seeing true poverty? He finished law school in May and took the bar exam in late July, but he won’t know if he passed the bar until November. For the types of positions he’s looking for in public interest law, it is very difficult to get a job until you can actually practice law, which means knowing that you have actually passed the bar. So, until he gets his results back, he would have difficulty finding a job, at least that’s what he told us to justify his trip. In any case, we were glad to have him and had put together a packed set of tourist activities, somewhat scheduled around our work. In this respect, we were fortunate because there were Swazi holidays on Monday, September 4th and Wednesday, September 6th, and our country director magnanimously decided to close our office on Tuesday. While we were still working, on Thursday, August 31, Adrian drove himself to Mlilwane, the closest Swazi game park to get his first taste of animals in Africa. Then starting Friday, Sept. 1 Rick and I will enjoy 10 days off with Adrian—at Kruger Park and to Cape Town in South Africa with time to return to Swaziland between to experience the Reed Dance.
Aug. 28 – Adrian’s Visit in Just 2 Days!
Adrian will fly today to Amsterdam and arrive in Jo’burg, South Africa tomorrow night. Adrian’s first adventures will be just driving from the airport to a nearby hotel. The next morning August 30th he’ll drive 4.5 hours to Swaziland—all on the wrong side of the road with a manual transmission car. He’ll cross the border through both South African and Swazi customs where he must pay a car fee since his rental car is South African. This trip will be his first to a developing country, so his reaction will be interesting. He’ll come to the TechnoServe office in Mbabane, then we’ll guide him to our house since directions to Emafini are hard to describe without knowing the area. On Friday, Sept. 1st we will drive together to Kruger National Park in South Africa (we have reservations at 2 different locations from our first trip), then back to Mbabane on Sept. 3rd. On Sept. 4th is the National Celebration of the Reed Dance where the King views literally thousands of virgins who parade by him in hopes he’ll choose one as his 14th or 15th wife. Let’s be honest, mostly Rick and Adrian want to attend to watch bare-breasted women and I’m going along for “the cultural experience” including dressing in Swazi costume! We hope to go to Capetown with Adrian to see the beautiful coastline and South Africa’s wine country. We’ll enjoy 10 days off with our son. He’ll have amazing tales to tell.
Aug. 26 – A Swazi Wedding
Sonnyboy Shongwe, who works at TechnoServe with us (whose project Rick is assisting along with several others) got married today to Xolile. The wedding took place about 1.5 hours from Mbabane, past the rural city of Piggs Peak, in the multi-purpose hall of a high school. This was a Christian ceremony that could have been held in an Afro-American church anywhere in the U.S. Deep South. But there were many totally delightful and uniquely Swazi elements as well as both a Methodist minister AND Sonnyboy’s evangelical pastor. . About 10:30 a.m. we entered the very full hall lined with plastic garden chairs. The gospel choir was already singing and clapping along with the audience of at least 300 hundred, many of whom were on their feet swaying and singing along. Soon the actual ceremony started. First 2 little girls dressed in white party-dresses, guided by a very pretty woman, paraded down the aisle tossing candies into the audience. Then through the doorway came the first usher in a black tux and bridesmaid dressed in a lavender satin gown and sparkly shawl, dancing down the aisle to African music. First they were moving together, then the girl ahead, and then back together. The next matching pair came in about 10 feet behind them, and so on until the 6th pair completed the same rhythmic cycle. Sonnyboy next danced alone part-way down the aisle, looking like a handsome actor at the Oscars and a bit nervous in his white tux. A young man rolled a red carpet down the whole aisle. In came the flower girl in a miniature bride costume, including veil and gloves. Sonnyboy danced with her for a bit. Finally the radiant but serious bride walked in on the arm of who we think was her brother. Sonnyboy approached them, put the bride’s arm on his, and together they strolled rhythmically to the front where the whole wedding party was seated at a large table.
The remainder of the 3.5 hour service was comprised of gospel singing, evangelical-type prayers, a rousing sermon, ceremonies and laudatory speeches by friends, relatives and multiple ministers. A highlight was 3 beautiful songs by a group of 20 from the professional Manzini choir in Swazi costume. Everything was spoken in Siswati with an infrequent word or two of English. Most of the time, we were clueless. We got occasional help from the Swazis in our group when we were supposed to do something important. One of these explanations came near the end of the service. Music started playing and we were told that we were expected to give a donation for the newly married couple. But rather than passing offering plates, everyone was expected to get up and place the money at the front of the hall. The music that began to play had a good beat. So Rick joined the congregation dancing to the front of the room to drop off the donation then danced back to his seat. It was joyful, somewhat controlled chaos.
The ceremony ended as it started with music and the wedding party dancing back up the aisle. We exited the auditorium toward a couple of high school classrooms a couple of buildings away for a late lunch. Since we had received a formal wedding invitation, we joined the sit-down potluck lunch with the wedding party and family. The other 300 guests had to form a cafeteria-type line to receive their lunch in a “takeaway” ` container. Of course this isn’t bad if you haven’t actually been invited. We learned that when you have a wedding in the Swazi culture, you should assume that the whole village or congregation (or both) will attend, and you must prepare to feed everyone. This can make planning very difficult, but they seemed to have plenty of food for the over three hundred people. The meal after the ceremony was very short and there were no other activities. According to our friends, the “traditional” Swazi wedding ceremony in full costumes and rituals will take place mostly in private tomorrow on Sunday. Wish we could be a fly on the wall. But today was totally enjoyable!
Aug. 25 – What is keeping Wendy so busy that she doesn’t update the Walleigh Blog and Website more often?
I’m working with Atiba Amelile on TechnoServe’s Emerging Entrepreneurs project which hopefully will catalyze the start of many small businesses. We plan to train and provide resources to budding entrepreneurs from age 16 to 35 who don’t yet have the skills or knowledge to run a successful company. Due to over 42% estimated HIV/AIDS rate, the median age in Swaziland is 19, the population is shrinking, and life expectancy is declining from 33 to 27 over the next few years. Today there are approximately 70,000 orphans of HIV/AIDS—expected to grow to 120,000 by 2010 which is almost 15% of the country’s population. Since no government efforts to date have made any difference, someone needs to motivate and teach people how to start businesses to prevent the economy from collapsing. Hence TechnoServe’s Emerging Entrepreneurs project.
My main focus has been to launch a School-Age Youth Entrepreneurship (SAYE) program (which is becoming a pilot of Junior Achievement in Swaziland). This includes my fundraising to support the program for at least the first 1.5 years, manage the pilot, and build the capacity of LULOTE, a local Swazi organization, to eventually assume the JA responsibility.
Mostly-funded for 2006, TechnoServe First Business Plan Competition for adults 18 to age 70 received 220 applications and lots of visibility (Ghana’s first competition received 300 for a exponentially larger country). So I’m trying to leverage ongoing awareness about these activities to create both a unified entrepreneurship fundraising strategy and marketing plan. Also I’m helping Atiba develop TechnoServe Business Place for Emerging Entrepreneurs, intended to be a one-stop “gateway” to help people start small businesses. Resources will include reference library, internet access with several computers, skills and knowledge assessment tools, in-person advisors for initial guidance, and senior consultants for more technical advice.
Today Atiba and I drove again to Manzini, the largest and most central Swazi city (over 100,000 people) to scout possible business gateway locations. Since it is not the government capital and most major companies are nearer the Matsapha airport, Manzini is not as well-kept as Mbabane. Its downtown is pretty old and dilapidated, congested with traffic, and polluted from all the buses, cars and kombis. It is not safe at night and there’s crime even during the day. Unfortunately Manzini is a typical city in a developing country, but it is the easiest to reach from all parts of Swaziland. We might partner with the University of Swaziland to create this small to medium enterprise (SME) center so we actually trekked across their campus looking at potential co-location sites. Atiba and I also visited Mavuso Trading Center outside Manzini, a large convention-type complex built by the government/King that is meant to host business fairs. In first 3 years of its existence (to date), it has been fully-booked for 2 weeks per year. The rest of the time, occasionally a couple of buildings are used for social, sports, and business events. The rest of the sites we have viewed are privately owned and so far, no one has offered anything but retail rental pricing, some even above market rates. So much for their giving back to the community. Since USAID is only willing to pay for a percentage of the business gateway, we will need to do much more fundraising if a facility is not donated or heavily subsidized. I will definitely stay busy through mid-December!
Aug. 20 – Potluck with TechnoServe Colleagues Amongst the Warthogs and Impala
Today was Diana’s birthday, one of very few we have not spent with her. Instead we met some office colleagues and their wives at nearby Mlilwane Game Park (where we had previously met the hippos and warthogs a few feet away). Its rest-camp has a picnic area, playground for kids, horseback and bike riding. We were fare-welling one young TechnoServe staffer from the U.S. who’s starting Sept. at Kennedy School (Intl Policy) in Boston and hopes to get an MBA as well. Anyway, a store-bought cake was our pot-luck contribution to the Mlilwane picnic. We sat in a thatched-roof version of a gazebo drinking beer, eating ribs and chatting, while impala wandered by, warthogs attempted to steal our food, and hippos grunted loudly. Otherwise it could have been a Playgroup get together at Pine Lake.
Aug. 17 – Daily Life in Mbabane
Right across the street from the TechnoServe office is another world that I’ve been afraid to enter: the combination flea-market, kombi (described below), taxi, and bus station. It is a large parking lot with a wide variety of people selling something–from shacks, tables, stools, and even modified railroad cars. I don’t want to be the only white woman or person wandering around, but I would love to take pictures of the sights and absorb the sounds and smells (to describe them). The area is like a flat, but very colorful anthill, with people shouting and scurrying about in all directions all the time. Some people just sell fruits and veggies on the edge of the lot. Everyone carries many bundles.
A Kombi is a van-size taxi which generally travels a set route but make stops all along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. People are jammed inside like sardines. They range in dress from business attire to children in school uniforms to laborers in greasy or ragged coveralls. It seems like there are hundreds of these kombi in the lot at all times. It is a mystery how they are organized. And while they are mostly individually owned, I’ve heard that there are some entrepreneurs who own several. What seems consistent are the tales of crazy drivers who don’t signal when turning (which they do a lot), over-crowded, poorly maintained vehicles, and sometimes streaming nasty black smoke from the tailpipe. Most public busses emit that sort of breath-stopping smelly smoke. Apparently the kombis, taxis, and busses are all privately owned and are probably not regulated nor even require special drivers’ licenses.
For all these reasons, we as professional and white have been warned away from catching a ride in either a Kombi or a bus. It doesn’t make sense that we take either since we do have our own rented car now. But they are intriguing and part of the local color. Diana talked about “micros” in South America, which I image are the same, and she did use them along with the public bus systems. It is less than 4km up the Malagwane Grade on the MR3 highway from Emafini to TechnoServe’s offices in the Emphalwini Mall. I feel a bit snooty not trying a Kombi with Rick at least once.
Aug. 16 – Observing Women Using Their Heads?
As my father’s World War 2 photos showed, since before the 1940s many women continue to balance huge bundles on their heads, from piles of wood to containers with pounds of fruits, veggies or water. Without even using their hands to steady the package women walk up and down the steep hills and even jaywalk across city streets. It’s truly astounding. I cannot remember seeing or hearing about another continent that even uses this method, but so far black women in Kenya, Tanzania, Swaziland, and South Africa consistently carry huge loads on their heads. The main difference from my father’s pictures is that today the women are fully clothed. Though certainly there is a middle class that has evolved now, the majority of women certainly don’t seem much better off from over 60 years ago. And what’s much worse, so many are dying of AIDS.
This past weekend started off with some fun news: Adrian is flying to visit us from Aug. 30 – Sept. 12! We’re going to make plans with him for a couple of special trips. Maybe we’ll go with him to the Reed Dance, the biggest celebration in Swaziland usually held at the end of August or early September. Supposedly all of Swaziland’s 50,000 young (virgin) maidens gather reeds nearby, then parade in front of the king—naked in the olden days but now just bare-breasted—so he can choose his next wife, number 14 or 15. Though rumor has it that the king chooses his next wife ahead of this beauty parade, it’s not rumor that to officially become engaged, the maiden must bear him a child. Then she can become his wife.
We had already decided to stay in Swaziland this past weekend, so we reserved a drive in Mkhaya Game Preserve (the only one here we need to book ahead). Swaziland owes the creation and survival of 3 of its major wildlife sanctuaries—Mlilwane, Mkhaya and Hlane—to Ted Reilly, son of an Anglo-Boer soldier. He persuaded Swazi King Sobhuza II (the previous monarch who accumulated 80+ wives and ruled the longest in world history) to set aside land for the animals, despite pressure from farmers to keep it for agriculture. Ted Reilly opened the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in 1963, and eventually Hlane and Mkhaya Game Preserves for tourism and animal management. His ownership of the 3 parks, success against poachers, and good relations with the king have continued to surround his family with controversy. But without his vision AND influence on royalty, Swaziland may never have had game parks at all.
Rather than leaving our car at the entrance to Mkhaya (where, sorry to say, it might have been stripped while we were in the park), we followed a ranger in a truck, forded a low river, and entered the main compound. As we waited to start our ranger-guided drive, a bus loaded with French tourists pulled up then filled 2 trucks on their own. That was the largest group of Westerners we’d seen since we arrived in Swaziland. Then we boarded our vehicle and headed out to the savannah.
As you see from our Mkhaya webpage on our site, we mainly saw groupings of 3 animals this trip: giraffe, elephants, and rhino. In fact at the water hole we visited in the morning, it almost seemed as though National Geographic or Animal Planet had directed a script for the scenes. When we arrived, over a dozen giraffe gathered around the water, drinking and casually conversing. A few minutes later, an elephant herd, complete with teens and babies, lumbered into the area and displaced the nervous giraffes. In a little while, the Movie Director must have cued the rhino mother and child, because they quietly, slowly crept toward the water, causing much elephant discussion and discomfort. Soon only the two rhinos were left at the water hole.
We learned interesting factoids from our ranger:
– Rhinos take mud baths to keep their skin flexible and minimize the ticks–a bit different from the goals of a human beauty treatment.
– Though in a head-to-head battle, an elephant would defeat a rhino, with babies in their herd, elephants err on the side of caution and respect vs. an over-protective, cranky mother rhino.
– The name “white” rhino was misinterpreted from “wide” rhino, which is really the flat-lipped species, as distinguished from the hook-lipped “black” rhino. Moreover, a white rhino mom keeps her baby in front when running for protection because they live in an open savannah and she wants to protect the baby’s back. But the black rhino lives in high-grass and bush so the mother clears the path for her baby instead. The ranger used the analogy that a black African mother carries her baby on her back, and a white man pushes a baby carriage in front.
– The horrifying reality is that rhino horns are still a major target of poachers (for Chinese aphrodisiac), and only 2% remains of the rhino population as sized in 1960.
– A clever pharmaceutical company should market Viagra as a more potent alternative! They could get great press by saving the rhinos at the same time as winning huge Asian business!
On Sunday, my cutting Rick’s hair was the major event for the 1st part of the day. Then we walked around Emafini to meet our closest neighbors—like a typical Sunday in 1950s U.S. The closest neighbor is a Finnish couple, Yuka and Susannah. They have 4, 3, and 1 year olds, all blonde, blue-eyed and beautiful of course. The parents and oldest child Sarah Maria speak English well, in addition to their native Finnish. We carried on down the hill to visit Patrick and Katherine Ward and their 3 year old precocious daughter, Ella. We stayed for a couple of drinks, and learned how Patrick (his parents Liz and Mark who own Emafini moved from Rhodesia in the 1970s) met his Virginia-born wife while he ran a charter-boat the British Virgin Islands. We hope to invite them, his parents and brothers over for wine and hors d’oevres maybe when Adrian is here in a couple of weeks.
This was one of the few times I felt like an ex-pat, not purely a tourist. We have now been here a month and are no longer the newbies at the office.
August 6, 2006 – Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
After I spent most of Saturday sleeping or reading, Rick and I spent Sunday morning “taking care of my hair.” He did an excellent job. We then drove to a local Swazi wildlife preserve, called Mlilwane, about 30 minutes from our house. We had set our expectations pretty low since we had been so amazed with our animal experience in Kruger National Park, South Africa. A few minutes inside the gate, we saw a lonely Zebra, the short, stocky breed whose special name we can’t remember. For the next half hour we saw nothing other than dozens of Impala along both sides of the road (the McDonald’s food for the savannah’s predators).
We parked the car at a rest camp in the preserve, and walked to a low stone wall where we saw people staring at something. THERE was a gigantic hippo the size of my blue Beetle, a foot away from the wall. He looked very forlorn with a runny nose and teary, infected-looking eyes. Then a couple of big warthogs (my favorite) scampered near him. By the time we left an hour or more later, a total of 7 hippos had emerged from the nearby lake and about 6 warthogs from the grasslands, all to stand within just a few feet of this 2 – 3 feet wall, with openings about 15 feet in either direction. There was a baby hippo, and two older but still growing hippos along with parents, including the hippo with the snuffly head-cold. There were several, clearly-male teenage warthogs who were full of themselves. One by one they would get near the sad hippo and kick sand in his face. Though he grunted and turned threateningly, the “boys” just ran away. What a whimsical, wonderful hippo-and-warthog day!
On the way back to Emafini, we stopped by an artisan area which featured Swazi-made candles that were beautiful, and some lovely batiks and carvings outside the candle factory. Definitely to be part of our holiday shopping.
August 3 – 4, 2006 – WW’s 1st trip to Johannesburg, South Africa (aka Jo’burg, ZA)
The drive to Jo’burg was quite cold since it had snowed the night before while Swaziland was being blown around—in both cases highly unusual weather. 5 hours later, with quick stops for custom lines at both the Swaziland and South Africa borders then lunch, Leslie (our Country Director and driver today), Atiba, and I reached our first appointment of the day 30 minutes late—and that was with paying a street person to watch our car out front of the building so it wouldn’t be towed. We had a very enlightening meeting for 2 hours with the Managing Director and Programme Director for Junior Achievement in South Africa.
As we headed for the Jo’burg Technoserve office in the Rosebank section of the city, it was impossible not to notice the fortress-like walls and steel gates guarding what seemed to be very high-end homes. We reached the office at about 4:45 p.m with its gate also marked with “Armed Response—Beware!” sign. During our brief visit, we learned that the office had been robbed twice in the previous six weeks so for safety the whole staff must leave on time at 5pm.
We drove the short way to our B & B, Vittoria Villa, also fortress-like. While the inn was quite pretty, it was also freezing cold inside. We immediately turned the rooms’ wall heaters up to max then left for dinner at Leslie’s favorite Jo’burg restaurant, Bukhara Indian. The food was marvelous and the setting was elegant. It opened onto the huge multi-story indoor mall in Sandton Towers that also housed many offices, The Millenium Hotel, and surrounded Nelson Mandela Square. We had arranged to have dinner with two salesmen from an internet tourism portal company they were trying to set up in Asia and Africa to provide Frequent Independent Travelers (FIT) with access to more rural, native, community-based lodgings and adventures. Not only were they incredibly gabby and strange but they constantly spouted 3- and 4-letter totally unfamiliar acronyms like FIT, PPP (not Point to Point Protocol). We left as soon as polite, headed back to Vittoria Villa and each of us bundled up in our beds.
The second day of the business trip had us driving all over Jo’burg after our 2nd appointment to try to reach the main highway. No need for a formal city tour—or even another visit to Jo’burg after that. We stopped for what turned out to be too long a lunch (in another, more suburban-like mall), so hit the road back to Swaziland about 4:00 p.m., much later than intended. Not only was there a lot of traffic, but since it was Friday, there were lots of pedestrians and cars that made the customs lines at both borders very long. Taking about 45 minutes for us to pass, we were then driving in the dark on a very deserted, two-lane road. A car behind and one ahead of us seemed to speed up then slow down to “check us out.” A friend of Leslie’s had been involved in a carjacking in Mozambique recently, so we may have read too much into the cars’ erratic moves. We finally got to the outskirts of Mbabane—crowds and safety–and eventually got home about 8:30 p.m.
August 2 – 3, 2006 – Windstorm takes trees, power and water for 3 or more days in central Swaziland
Starting Wednesday night, August 2nd, a storm with high gale force winds–no rain, thunder or lightening–hit central Swaziland. Just as Rick had finished cooking dinner (yes he’s been taking care of me while I’ve been sick) and we were about to sit down to eat, the power went out. The house (made thank heavens mostly from cinder block) withstood the gale, and we were fortunate that the Emafini compound has a powerful generator so the water could pump and lights could go on. When we headed over the hill to the main road, however, two huge trees blocked the way. We drove back to the house and noticed huge limbs of trees and our yard swing were down. Between our and our neighbor’s house a huge tree was uprooted but that had missed our houses. We called the office and they sent Kiki the driver to meet us at the bottom of the hill. Since Wendy was leaving for an overnight trip to Jo’burg that meant lugging a duffle as well as both computer bags. At the office we learned that most of the staff was without water and power. After assessing the difficulty of driving to Jo’burg, Atiba, Leslie, and I got on the road.
July 31, 2006 – Becoming Familiar with Swaziland
The highlights of the last weekend in July are that Rick and I visited the Swazi National Cultural Village in nearby Ezulwini (which means “heaven” in Siswati) and our attending a dinner and wine auction. Since the village is documented on its own page in our website, I will focus here on the latter.
Our Country Director, Leslie, and her husband, Stuart (who is Scottish and notes that there is no “w” pronounced in his name) drove us to the Malkerns Country Club. There we met with 2 other Technoserve staffers, Julie with her husband Hogan, and Alla with her date, Tony. None of us had ever attended a wine auction, never mind one in Africa, so we came with no preconceived notions. I’ll start by saying that Julie and Hogan were the only native Swazi attending and it made me think I was suddenly back in colonial days.
We all sampled some nice South African wine before we sat down after 7:00 p.m. for what we thought was dinner. Lots of hearty conversation, drinking, and smoking abounded in the room. Then the auctioneer announced, at least to our table’s dismay, that the 100-lot wine auction was to be completed before dinner. Only the table’s cheese platters, wine, and bread kept our gnawing hunger at bay—and actually Leslie had to go to the kitchen to get more bread after 2 hours. A few of us at the table did bid, but none won any of the 104 lots sold. Since the wine was actually marked-up beyond local retail and to our best knowledge was not benefiting any charity, we were actually grateful to be empty-handed. At 10:15 p.m. a decent dinner of beef, veggies, and potatoes, then dessert (called tipsy cake?) was finally served. We enjoyed our table-mates’ company and while amused by the evening, all of us would vote to “give it a miss” next year.
Quick note on July 25th
As I was home with my cold but busy creating our blog, something tapped at the window: a Vervet monkey sat on the window ledge looking in and his friend was on top of the house’s carport, near the satellite dish. We really are in Africa.
Our First Weekend Away – South Africa Safari July 22 – 24
We decided on a photo safari for our first big weekend away, especially since we found out near the end of the week that we had Monday, July 24th off to celebrate the birthday of the last King Sobhuza II, the longest reigning monarch in history anywhere in the world. After scurrying for last minute reservations, we drove 3 hours into Kruger National Park in South Africa. We saw elephants, a baboon, herds of Cape buffalo and impala, and a giraffe just on our way to Pretoriuskop where we stayed the first night in a cheery, round, cement hut with a thatched roof. The oldest and the largest rest-camps in Kruger, Pretoriuskop and Skukusa respectively, reminded us of the cabins in U.S. national parks: clean and spartan. Though the compounds each had a restaurant, snack bar, and general store with curios also like American parks, what was a bit different was watching Impala grazing nearby and Vervet monkeys hopping around, scrounging the trash cans for food.
In open trucks converted to have 25 bus seats, rails and a tarp roof, we participated in sunset and sunrise 3-hour guided safaris. We also went on a sunrise ranger-guided walk. Getting up at 4:45 a.m. and sitting in the windy, cold dark both before sunrise and after sunset was challenging but well worth the time spent to see amazing animals in their natural setting, just feet away from us. Over the 3 days, we saw 4 of “The Big Five”: buffalo, elephants, lions, and rhinos. We missed leopards, the most elusive of the Big Five. On the 1st night, we were looking up the road with our safari truck’s spotlights and noted several lions slowly parading ahead. Further back down the road was the alpha Lion of the pride, who was magnificent with a full ruff of hair. We “hung out” with these 7 lions for about 45 minutes and got great pictures. On the next morning’s ride, we saw this same pride with a zebra kill. There were lions guarding the alpha lion as he was eating—we could hear the crunching of bones. After a bit, we watched him drag the zebra carcass further out into the bush to protect his property.
We saw tens of elephants both in groups and alone. In fact on the 2nd night safari one young bull elephant approached our car and 2 others. We quickly drove away but heard later that the other cars spent quite a while extricating themselves from confronting this teen-aged elephant who was cranky because he was kicked out of his herd and now on his own to find a mate (typical adolescent boy?).
Though I started a bad cold on Sunday, nothing would stop me from the last drive and only safari walk to see these animals in the wild. All totaled, we viewed seventeen varieties of animals and six types of birds that we could recognize from our guidebook, including: Baboon, Cape Glossy Starling, Civet (like a small leopard), Duiker (small antelope), Egyptian Geese, Giraffes, Helmeted Guineafowl, Hippos, Hyenas, Impalas, Jackal, Kudu (2nd largest antelope in Kruger), Rabbits, Saddle-billed Storks, White Rhinos, Vervet Monkeys, Warthogs (my personal favorite), and Wildebeests. We were lucky to observe two rare antelope species in the park, Hartebeests and Sables, whose introduction and breeding program at Kruger were not successful. It was unusual and somewhat scary to see 6 hyenas at one time, just knowing the pressure per square inch of their mouths when in attack mode. And just as we passed close by with our spotlights, we startled a Spotted Eagle-Owl who began to open his wings. There were literally hundreds of impala, whom our guides said not only had the markings of the “M” for McDonalds Restaurants on their butts, but also were predators’ fast food of choice. Our drive to, from, and in Kruger was a wonderful experience.
Summary of Rick and Wendy’s First Week July 17 – 21st at TechnoServe
Rick is working with Mpendulo to learn about the first of the 2 companies that he is helping: a treated pole company which has run out of funding twice. They met the owners/top 2 executives, and hope to put this company on a sustainable track since it could potentially hire up to 200 local Swazis. Rick began to assess the next company to which he is assigned: a proposed bottled water company. We are not sure that there is a strong market need for another company with Coca Cola and Nestle already bottling water regionally, 5 brands or more in the local supermarkets, plus Emafini (our housing compound) brand which bottles water then donates the profits to an orphanage.
Wendy is working with Atiba at Technoserve to create a program to inspire a pool of young, school age (teens and early twenties) Swazis to become entrepreneurs. These youth need to understand the business world and acquire the skills to create a business that could employ themselves and others. During the first 2 days I didn’t feel as though I was actually in Africa, despite seeing all the dark-skinned people while we were at lunch in the mall. People are basically well-dressed in Western style clothing and seem relatively happy. There are lots of cars. I could have been in a small city somewhere in USA’s Deep South.
Atiba and Wendy then met with several groups in rural and urban areas to understand how to leverage business/entrepreneurship classes that are taught to youth in the already-established Swaziland “pre-voc” (pre-vocational or school-to-work) pilot schools. The rural poverty is similar to Mexico’s and every other poor, struggling developing country. Rural stores consist of tin-roofed huts along the road with people walking in to buy food or supplies. “Crafts” could be from any road stand anywhere in Africa. Lots of men and women, young to old, hang out front of the store-huts with no jobs (50% unemployment in Swaziland).
Africa and its failed “big aid” experiments became real for me after visiting 2 of Swaziland’s pilot “pre-voc” schools and meeting a rural village’s high school graduates.
The pre-voc program was supposedly catalyzed by Mozambiquans’ migration to Swaziland during their civil war. These refugees came with nothing, but many started their own tiny businesses and over time began to hire Swazis. So the Swazi government decided their students needed better entrepreneurial classes. They received a big grant from the Africa Development Bank. Farm machinery, farm animals, new labs and classrooms were added to 16 pilot schools across the country. After Atiba’s and my meeting with three students and two teachers at the first school then about six teachers at Swazi National High School (supposedly Swaziland’s most prestigious public high school), it was clear that “pre-voc” programs had significant problems. Not the least of which was 4 large tractors were purchased for training students but not delivered to the high schools and minimal animal husbandry could be taught because animals were generally only female. According to the teachers, the program was “imposed from above” on them and the schools, inadequately marketed to parents and the other teachers, and provided minimal teacher training. Also angering parents and teachers, there is no measurement of impact and the pre-voc students graduate from high school with no additional certification. The pre-voc program originators also mis-set expectations by promising then not delivering financial support for graduated pre-voc students to start businesses.
Atiba and I also met with young men near the rural village of Kantunja, hosted by a native Swazi man who graduated from Colorado State then earned a Masters from Colorado School of Mining. In 2001, the village’s young boys banded together to determine how to create businesses so that they could become employed. As expected of many group efforts, less than 20% of the students did more than 80% of the work on the initial bean-growing project, which achieved E800 profit. But 5 years later the profit still has not been used, no other businesses have been started, and the bean-growing success has not been sustained. Though the youngest was 18 and the oldest over 30, the youth clearly did not understand how to create a workable business plan or viable business. These young men were still living at home with no income source of their own. Our host feels that these young people also lack motivation.
Atiba, Sandra, and I met with the Program Manager and Executive Director of Lulote, a Technoserve partner. We all agreed that pre-voc education is not adequately preparing students for entrepreneurship and unlikely to become the foundation of Technoserve’s future youth program. On Thursday the 5 of us met with the Chief Inspector and 4 of his key staffers in the Ministry of Education who monitor secondary education’s quality across Swaziland. The discussion was frank, and despite some finger-pointing at teachers and poor marketing of the program, the inspectors seemed to agree that the pre-voc program was not successful and unlikely to change without a major overhaul. Additionally distracting to the Inspector’s staff is instituting the new International General Certificate for Secondary Education (IGCSE) initiative based on the British education model. The Ministry looked to us as experts to help solve their problems and we did agree to come back to them with some possible strategies.
July 13, 2006 – Landing in Swaziland
We landed in Matsapha Airport outside Manzini, Swaziland about noon on July 13th (having left SFO 5pm on July 11th) with 2 amazing events occurring: 1) as we parked at the terminal, the left plane engine started spewing smoke and 2) all of our suitcases arrived with us (!). Kiki, the Technoserve driver, drove us and our (OK, mostly my) hundreds of pounds of luggage to our new home.
The scenery on the drive from the airport and even the view from our cottage is like California’s central valley and the Sierra foothills combined. Sunny, in the 70s. Brown hills sparsely dotted with trees next to a wide open valley. Our yellow stucco cottage has a fabulous canyon view out back, along with a bench-swing. Even the house itself feels like a California bungalow: living/dining area, kitchen, bathroom, small master and guest bedrooms, and an office, all with no central heating or air conditioning. After we unloaded our suitcases, Kiki drove us to the office in Mbabane to get oriented.
Mbabane could be a city in rural California as well, but with about 90,000 people. The downtown area is neat and clean, with paved roads and sidewalks. One of the biggest differences from our part of California is that Mbabane is probably 99% native African, with the 1% being mostly Caucasian and some Asian/Indian.
The Technoserve office is upstairs in “The Mall” and across from a shopping plaza and a 2nd mall that could be anywhere in the U.S. We met some Technoserve people; checked our home emails; had lunch with 2 staffers, Alla and Mpendulo, in the nearby mall; got cell phones; bought some groceries and were back at the cottage by 5:30pm. Monday, July 17th will be soon enough to starting working for real!
As we were unpacking our neighbors, Patrick then later his “Mum” Liz, stopped by. Both friendly and delightful people, Patrick’s wife Katherine is from the U.S. but the rest of his family is from Swaziland. Their family owns the Emafini compound (our cottage is part of this) and Christian conference center as well as a large hotel near the summit of Malagwane Rd. Having had peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for dinner (yes, American comfort-food), by 9:30pm we called it a day or 3.
July 11, 2006 – Our 1st Steps to Swaziland
Today’s the day we start our 36 hour journey to Swaziland and we’re still packing up at the last minute. We are very excited and a bit anxious. But we know that we will have an amazing few months. Bon Voyage to us!
July 03, 2006
In a little over a week, we’ll be heading to Swaziland. Still packing to do, and finalizing arrangements, but it’s becoming more and more real that we will be living in Africa very soon.