It has been an interesting and active four weeks. I travelled to South Africa in the middle of the month. The weekend before the journey we drove to Kent, to visit my half-sister Pat, who is 24 years older than me. Unfortunately her husband, David, was in hospital for a hernia operation. This did not go well initially. He has recovered now, but he was in hospital for the entire time we were there. His misfortune meant their children, who are slightly younger than me, were about. We had a lunch, with all my siblings present and then with members of Pat and David’s family. It was a four drive from Norwich. Going down the traffic uses the bridge across the Thames at Blackwall, coming back we drove thought the tunnel. These are both tolled, but there was a transponder on the car we hired which simply beeped. This is a theme of the blog post in July – transponders!
We had a good time. Ailsa found an idyllic cottage, ‘May’s Cottage‘. It had two bedrooms so my sister Gill, who took the train down from London, was able to stay with us. There was an area to sit outside and it was amazingly peaceful and beautiful. The swallows swooped, cows mooed and foxes barked. It is far enough from Gatwick airport that I was able to enjoy the sight of the planes but it was not too disruptive. All in all a very good weekend.
Apart from having to get up at 4.30am to travel from Norwich to Amsterdam for the connection, the flight to South Africa was not too bad. I read a book and watched two films: Moonlight and Their Finest: more on these at the end of the blog. Of course arriving in Johannesburg at 9pm is a challenge, there are no connections. I slept over at the City Lodge – which one can safely walk to. The flat in Durban was fine, apart from the thin layer of industrial grime on every surface. That meant time has to be spent wiping surfaces and washing the floor before it is habitable.
I did not spent long in Durban since I needed to be in Swaziland. I did the drive up in one day, stopping as is my usual practice, in Mkuze at the Ghost Mountain Inn for a quick lunch. It was a long drive, eight hours including the stops, but fun. The good news is that the toll gates now include a lane for vehicles with chips (transponders). While there is still a barrier that has to lift and there is still a person in the booth, this is South Africa after all, it is a great deal quicker getting through. There was an abnormal load being escorted up the main road by police cars. They are very good at this, lots of practice I think, they pull off regularly to allow the traffic that has built up to get past. Unfortunately the first time I overtook was south of Mkuze. Because I stopped for lunch and they did not this meant I got stuck behind them again, fortunately only for a few kilometers, I turned off for Swaziland while the load headed for Johannesburg.
The numerous game parks in Northern KwaZulu-Natal mean tourism is big business. Every seat on the plane from Amsterdam was occupied as schools in the Netherlands had broken up the previous day. There were numerous Dutch families heading for Southern Africa and at the Mountain Inn in Mbabane almost every guest was Dutch. The preferred way of taking tourists game viewing is in open land rovers. The degree to which they are open varies. One passed me on the main road, going at quite a clip. This was the most open variety, no roof or windscreen. The driver was wearing a motorcycle helmet with the visor down: what a sensible precaution against getting hit in the face by insects or even worse a bird!
Quite frequently when I go through the border I am asked to give someone a lift. On this trip the policeman on duty asked me to take one of his colleagues, a policewomen, to Manzini a town about two hours away. While it was nice to have company it meant that I had to obey all the traffic signs and speed limits. Clearly this good karma was transferrable. Two days later I went round a roundabout without stopping as I entered it. There was a police car which immediately put on the siren and lights. I pulled off and they drew up next to me.
“I am so sorry,” I said, “I did something wrong but I have no idea what it was”.
“You did not stop before entering the roundabout. Where are you from?”
It took only a second to decide that they would be more kindly disposed to me if I were really foreign and helpless, so I said that I was from Canada and as a result was simply told about the Swazi rules! In my defence I had hired the car using the Canadian license. My good karma did not last as I was caught speeding on the way back to Durban, a R250 fine for going 96 kph in an 80 kph zone.
Going back to Durban I meandered down a back road to Piet Retief where I spent two nights. The little border post is Emahlathini on the Swazi side and Houdkop on the South African side. In the office in Swaziland was a notice:
NO CORPSES MAY BE BROUGHT THROUGH EMAHLATHINI BORDER POST.
This is the name of the South African border post. I have never seen this notice at other crossings so was left wondering why it was here and if perhaps there were numerous corpses in no-man’s land between the two posts. The road from the border to the town was once tarred. At the moment it is mainly potholes linked by the remains of the tarmac. There was an enterprising young man, with a spade and piles of dirt, doing makeshift repairs in exchange for coins or food from drivers – there is probably only one car or truck every ten minutes so it is not heavily travelled. I was happy to handover some money.
Stupidly and inevitably I did not have the directions to the guest house, so stopped in a little restaurant for lunch. It was not busy and next to me were a family, two senior people a young women and a child. We got talking and had a fascinating conversation. Erwin and Gilda run a business ‘to help people create the life that they want for themselves, and their families’. Their daughter Carmen works with them and is a professional ballerina, and the child, Levi, was remarkably well behaved for a nine year old listening to adult conversation. It was a great encounter and makes me realise how many stories there are in the world. We will never know most of them.
This post would not be complete without mentioning the Shiselweni Home Based Care project run by Arnau van Wyngaard in southern Swaziland from Piet Retief. It was the reason I stopped in the little ‘dorp’. We went into Swaziland to visit one of the project sites, one which had a neighbourhood care point, a feeding centre, a pre-primary school and church. I have included some photographs of the project. I was particularly taken with the way the food is cooked: huge pots in the building and the fire kept separate and stocked from outside. Quite amazing. The kids were trickling in for the meal as we left. It is very basic, maize meal, beans, and some protein. On the day we were there the kids had meat and gravy with the pap. It would be great if there was a way to get fruit into the diet.
Moonlight. This is a 2016 American coming-of-age drama film written and directed by Barry Jenkins that I meant to see in Waterloo and never managed to get to. It is semi-autobiographical and three stages in the life of the main character growing up in Miami. The stages are as a child ‘Little’ to a teenager ‘Chiron’ to young adult ‘Black’. It explores the difficulties he faces with his sexuality and identity, including the physical and emotional abuse he endures growing up.
Their Finest. This is a 2016 British war comedy-drama that tells the story of a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. I enjoyed it, particularly as Richard E. Grant, a Waterford graduate, is in it.
Liyana. I have not yet seen this film! However it was directed and produced by a Waterford graduate Aaron Kopp and his wife Amanda. It is about children in Swaziland and combines animation and acting. I have seen snippets and it looks like a remarkable film, take a look at the website.