Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Way Station

   I did not look back as Durban trailed away behind us. We had parted ways with a fellow traveller, but new blood was added to even up our numbers. After the angst of Durban, we had had enough of South Africa and set our sights on new lands. A sojourn in Swaziland was the next  stop in our adventures. We welcomed the change. Technically a new country for us, it was actually considered a kingdom. Swaziland is landlocked and surrounded by South Africa on three sides with Mozambique on the remaining. The South African currency (the Rand) was accepted everywhere, although officially the Lilangeni was the currency of the country. That was not the only difference that we noticed though as we entered this tiny country measuring 200km north to south and 130 km east to west. Mbabane rose in front of us surrounded by the Dlangeni Hills. While it may have laid claim to being the capital, it was a much smaller and more relaxed environment than our former resting place. We breathed a sigh and hoped that the ill winds that had been gathering around us, would disperse in this new terrain.
 Arnie slowly putted into Mbabane, as our wandering eyes took in as much as they could of the city. The high-energy of Durban seemed a million miles away from this sleepy city. Certainly, there were amenities to be seen, but the glitz of the flashy tourist attractions were not in abundance. Here was a place to hunker down and get business taken care of, the first business being finding a place to rest our heads for the night. The Lonely Planet guide open on a lap gave suggestions and we cruised into a non-descript hostel that would fit the bill. Once settled into the hostel, we laid out a plan. One of the reasons for visiting Swaziland was to arrange visas for travelling to Mozambique. Obtaining directions, we pushed off with passports in hand to go through the legal wrangling necessary  to get said visas. After long, slow-moving lines we finally emerged from the drab consulate. I blinked at the sunshine that seemed like it should have gone to bed hours before after our ordeal. As they kept our passports to process until the visas were ready, we now had to sit back and stay close to the place at hand. Looking around, we wondered what to do next.
Since we seemed to be in a relatively safe environment, we drifted apart again. Brett and Oliver went off to hike through the nearby hills. Miki and I wandered the city and made our way back to the hostel. We debated a movie. Ultimately, I spent the time catching up on letters. On a following day, I discussed local politics with a man in a church centre that I happened across. He described a recent strike that the country had gone through that had lasted eight days and had effectively shut down the country. Water, electricity and telephones were all affected. I had heard of the strike and violence that came with it, but not the cause; maternity leave and back pay for nurses, amongst other reasons. Valid reasons, but to shut down the entire country was scary. I was glad that we had missed that.
We had our own troubles, though not near on the scale of theirs.  Brett had been in a fight the night before we left Durban. I had left my malaria pills behind there. For unknown reasons, Arnie’s starter motor seemed to be on the fritz. Somewhere between Durban and Mbabane, we discovered that turning the key in the ignition did not produce the desired effect. Around False Bay, we found that with a little encouragement in the form of a push start we were able to get in motion again. We looked at it as a trifling annoyance at the time. Add to that the minor gas leak, a bolt stuck in a tire  and the fact that the speedometer had stopped at 81km, Arnie was showing his wear. I prayed that once we collected our precious passports back again, we would hit better roads in the future. A sense of fore-boding could not be shaken though, as I noted that Mozambique was still recovering from their ten year war for indepence from Portugal, followed closely by an internal civil war that had lasted 15 years and only ended three years previous. What would we find in this new land, I wondered. 


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