Grace and Sean fluidly roll some version of this sequence to their friends, family, or familiar passerby's. Translated, I think it means:
How's it going? (Wait for greeting...)
I'm doing fine.
Yup (followed by smiles).
From a distance, around 4500 nautical miles, I have admired my sister and brother-in-law for whatever it was they were doing over there in Africa... Swaziland... But, admiration is only smoke without understanding, and the short week Dad, John, and I spent allowed for a small, but actual awareness of what our Swazi family members were up to.
By the way, it only takes a day, so they aren't really that far away - with the proper transportation. We arrived in the King's airport on Saturday morning, after a series of flights... I sat and slept in the middle of Dad and John the entire trip - most dream of such fortune. We walked through Passport control and were immediately greeted by Sean and Grace. We hugged out hellos, and headed to Hlane National Park.
Day 1 - Saturday
Saturday started in the late morning, as we had just arrived. Dad took control of the driving with Sean navigating. As the road rules are inverted with left being right and right being left, the key to success is to stay left, find a road partner to follow, and listen to Sean, who holds an intimate knowledge of Swaziland's roadways. Waiting on us in Hlane, was a setting of relaxation. Wooden chairs outlooking a small lake held the potential for a wild encounter. Although we did not see the hippos that chose that day to break routine, we did encounter a lone Crocodile, noisy birds, and Swaziland's prize lager - Sibebe. Success.
After, Hlane, we headed to Grace and Sean's home, where we met Babe and Make. Their welcome was warm, heartfelt, and full of a patient kindness. We got settled, changed clothes, and headed to the S.O.S. Youth Center for basketball.
Highlights from Day 2 and 3 - Sunday and Monday
Some highlights from these two days included Sunday Church. We walked to 11:00 AM church Sunday morning after banana pancakes for breakfast. Jack Johnson melodies. Breakfast, by the way, was quite phenomenal every morning in the Collins' home. Anyways, church was excellent. The pastor spoke of maturation with Christ and used memorable comparisons. During the service, John and I were presented with gifts from the church, and were asked to say a few words... We pretty much nailed it, not really, but everyone was very nice to us regardless...
Monday morning was preceded by a sampling of Exploding Kittens (a card game), Acoustic Jams (brought to us by John and yours truly), and Sibebe and friends. On Monday, we had fried eggs and potatoes for breakfast... boom. Then we headed to visit Grace and Sean's playground site. At the site we were greeted by willing helpers, as Sean and Grace worked on the wall that greeted children to the playground site. Grace had fashioned some sensory games and Sean worked on the artwork and wording for the playground. During this time, Dad, John, and I entertained some small children with playground antics and rudimentary soccer (futbol) skills. This one child would not stop fake crying, so Grace put him in timeout.
Day 4 - Tuesday
Grace made banana bread for breakfast! During which the crew shook off the night before, and Sean determined that public transport was the right move for John and I. As Grace and Dad packed the car, Sean took us to the road to hail a Kombi. We watched a few of these taxis pass, while Sean was signing direction to vehicles as to our direction. Not really sure of what was going on, the McCord brothers tried to look natural...
Sean succeeded and stopping a Kombi headed to Manzini; however, the driver was off-duty, and we got our own private transport, according to Sean this was rare, and although we made great time, we all agreed that this did not count as a true public transport experience - John and I did not mind so much. After exploring the city, we headed to Lidwala where we found a kind of oasis for volunteers and other backpackers. Full of zeal at our success with sort of/kind of public transport we headed out to hike Sheba's Breast, a mountain. The hike was straight up and although it started off painful, the toil was worth the view.
On the way down, we were encouraged by a band of baboons who became very interested in the interlopers who had briefly borrowed their mountain. Grace informed us that they may try and feign a charge and we were to stand our ground... this was after she informed us that they could easily rip our arms off... Dad went first, while Sean hooted at them from our position on the low ground. Once back in Lidwala, we had some needed showers and met up with Nolan, Hannah, and Shar - three volunteers of the highest quality. We all packed into the car and headed to the Milan for pizza. The trip consisted of some wonderful pies, excellent stories, and Dad busting through a police blockade; we owned the night!
Day 5 and 6 - Wednesday - Thursday
The next morning we awoke and went for breakfast in Mbabane and met Simiso, one of Grace and Sean's Sisi from their first homestead. Afterwards, we headed back to pack up and relocate to Malandelas. At Malendelas we checked into our room and walked around the House on Fire. Like Lidwala, the accommodations were top notch, and for the rest of the night we sat on the porch locked in conversation. Oh, and we ate another delicious meal.
We went to bed full, and in the morning we headed to the park. A Swazi park is pretty much the same as just being dropped off in the wild. In the wild, we were surrounded by zebras, impala, "wild beast", crocodiles, and some sneaky hippos. We nervously navigated the hippo trail where we heard the not-to-far-away grunts of the hippo family that were supposed to be in the water... they were not. It was not until we were back into the car that we actually saw the hippos leave the area we had just vacated and splash into the water.
After the park, the crew headed to the market and got lunch at the Mug and Bean. Afterwards, John, Sean, and I went to the cinema. As Grace and Dad had headed back to Malandelas, we took a Kombi back. This time, we received a more authentic experience, as we picked up school children and made multiple stops - I sat in the middle. We ended the night with another wonderful meal, which was a consistent theme throughout the trip.
Looking back on the week, I am confident that I could not do what Sean and Grace and the other volunteers are doing in Swaziland - I would miss home too much, I'm lame - but I was overwhelmed by the welcome we received from Babe, Make, and the community in which they live. Some other things I was thankful for on this trip... quality breakfast, loving pastors, the high ground on hippo trail, early sunsets, spare ribs, emergency breaks, and new family halfway across the world.