In July 2018 I went to my last Governing Council meeting at Waterford Kamhlaba United World College (WK) where I have been a Governor for 24 years. I thought I would weep at the farewell cocktail party. To my surprise I did not. Perhaps this was because of the example of fellow Governor Derek Blackman retiring after nine years. Derek never tires of reminding me that, in the minutes of the meeting where he was nominated, a Governor (in fact me) remarked this was a mistake as he was based in the UK and would not travel to the meetings. He attended all 27 meetings during his tenure and made a great contribution. It was, however, an emotional evening. I posted my farewell remarks on my website, not because they were earth-shattering, but because I put thought into them and they are reflective.
I stayed at the Mountain Inn which has become my home in eSwatini. It is at the top of the Ezulwini Valley and has magnificent views. I was particularly glad to spend time with Quinton Reissmann, who was at St Mark’s primary school with me. He is currently a teacher at WK, having worked mainly in government schools in Swaziland. We are both grey (him more than me because he has hair). When I am with him I feel the years fall away.
The hotel has five new rooms. They were good enough to put me in the largest, not that I needed the space. The new rooms were not the biggest change, a couple of months ago it was announced that the country was changing its name from Swaziland to Eswatini. In this, and future writing I will refer to past events as having happened in Swaziland, but from now, if it is something new, I will talk about Eswatini. I had a very African experience, as I was walking down to the room one evening I felt a thump on my upper arm. I wondered what it was: a large moth? When I got to the room I glanced to down and to the left. There was a little gecko riding, contentedly, on my shoulder!
I drove from Durban taking two days over the journey. I spent the night at the Ghost Mountain Inn in Mkuze, then drove on to Mbabane for three nights. I stopped at Marandelas in Malkerns for lunch on the way. This is the location for many music events including the Bushfire festival which I have never been to but hear is amazing. As per usual I went to meet with the National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA), the organization that coordinates and facilitates the HIV and AIDS response in Eswatini. Its website is nercha.org.sz, but be aware that when I went and looked at it there was a warning saying the site ‘may have been hacked’.
The school had an event on the field on the Saturday: the first ever Kamhlaba Day. It was not a fete, but still a chance to raise funds for the community service programme. There was live music and a huge range of stands with food and drink on sale. Unfortunately the GC meeting only broke at 1.30, by which time I was starving so got a pizza at the very first food stall. Given the variety of stalls I kicked myself. The stands included the Royal Eswatini Police, various health care providers and others. The school, innovatively, turned a nearby patch of veld into a car park to solve the lack of space problem.
At the GC meeting we talked, among many things, about the Strategic Plan, and I will be a little sad not to be part of the group who implement it. One of the GC members, Mike Linden, taught me English decades ago. This is relevant for what happened next. My fellow Governors and the Staff reminded me that we never really leave the Waterford and, flying to Amsterdam, this was brought home to me. In August 2016 my post described how I had bought a book, A Choice of Poets, at a car boot sale in Norwich. When I opened it I saw two names of people from Waterford on the fly leaf. One was Eugene Marais, Mike Linden’s step son, the other Yunus Peer who was in my class. He now lives and teaches in Hawaii having been forced to leave South Africa in 1976. Once I had his address, having got it at an event in Swaziland, I posted the book to him since it was, sort of, his book.
He runs an amazing voluntary organization called ‘Teachers across Borders Southern Africa’ which takes American teachers, mainly to the Eastern Cape but also Eswatini, running courses to upgrade the local educators. On the flight from Joburg there was woman of about my age sitting next to me. We did not talk other than to acknowledge each other. Just after we landed I asked her if she had enjoyed her time in South Africa. She told me she had, but it was not a holiday, and she had been in Bloemfontein. I immediately realized from recent newsletters that she was one of Yunus Peer’s teachers. I said, “You have been working with Yunus”. She was surprised and knew the story of the book. What a coincidence.
I left just after lunch on Sunday, having eaten in the school canteen, and drove to Piet Retief. Here I dined with my missionary friend, Arnau van Wyngaard, his wife Johanna and his daughter Este. Este was a journalist but has started her own business as an Image consultant. She is currently working through Facebook as ‘Estéem Image’. It sounds most interesting. Piet Retief was extremely cold and there was a thick frost on the lawn next morning. Southern Africa does not do heating well.
I only had one night in Durban before heading to Amsterdam for the International AIDS Conference and associated meetings. I was there for 10 days. The first Friday and Saturday were at the International AIDS Economics Network meeting, which was held at the Amsterdam Medical University. This was great fun with 97 economists, or quasi economists attending. Initially I was dubious about the venue as it was two metro stops from the hotel we were staying in. Public transit worked perfectly and there was no problem at all. Indeed I left my bag at a restaurant next to the hotel, and had to slip out to see if it had been found (thank heavens it had). It took less than 40 minutes to sort that out! The Sunday was taken up with a special, informative and enjoyable meeting organized by the Joep Lange Institute, named after a Dutch virologist, killed on the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine in 2014.
The main conference ran from Monday to Friday. It was great fun and, although I did not attend many of the formal sessions, it was an opportunity to catch up with many old friends I have not seen for years. There was some new information presented that is, mostly, encouraging. Sadly there was also clear evidence of the lack of rainfall in much of Europe. Many trees looked as though they are dying and it is quite desperate. From Amsterdam I flew home to bone dry Norwich.
On the daylight flight to South Africa I watched three films, all worth seeing.
Goodbye Christopher Robin. This is about the relationship between Alan Alexander Milne (better known as AA Milne and his son Christopher Robin. Milne, who served in the First World War, had just the one child. He was a writer of note, but it was the Winnie-the-Pooh books and poems that made his name. So much is derived from this – a pessimist being called an ‘Eeyore’, and ‘Pooh sticks’ where sticks are simultaneously dropped from a bridge upstream – the winner is the first to emerge downstream. The complexity of relationships in the interwar years is well illustrated. The nanny was pivotal in the boy’s early years and the mother somewhat distant. Indeed they were estranged when she died.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard. This is what we called a ‘skiet and donner’ film as children. Literally translated that means ‘shoot and beat-up’. It is full of action. The idea is that one of the best bodyguards in the world is employed to protect a most notorious and successful hit man, who is due to testify against a genocidal East European dictator (former Yugoslavia is implied) in International Criminal Court. The person he is to testify against is determined to prevent it. The story is full of action as they battle to get from London to The Hague. I really enjoyed it as pure entertainment.
The 15.17 to Paris. Directed by Clint Eastwood this is the story of how, in August 2015, three young Americans prevented a terrorist attack on a Thalys train travelling from Brussels to Paris. There were other people involved in the response, this film focuses on the Americans. It will not win awards but was well made, entertaining, and based on a true story.