Next morning we had bananas from a street seller and pink Fanta from the gas station before hopping over to the louage station for a ride to Lobamba Royal Valley and the Ezulwini area. Lobamba is where the royal mausoleum, national church, and cultural museum are, with Seventh Day Adventists worshipping happily across the street from the armed guard of the sacred corpse of HM King Sobhuza II. There is a little photo gallery of all the nice things that nice Sobhuza II did during his lifetime, such as meeting with Prince Charles of Great Britain and attending the opening of a Holiday Inn at Ezulwini in 1970 (honest!). Is he not a likeable little squeezyface?
Rural Swazination smelled like campfire as we walked over basically an eighth of the country to Mantenga, a nature reserve airlifted from Arizona (not really) and home to the Taiwanese and Finnish embassies (really). We had what I called in my head “Cultural Experience B-14” in the combination of getting there and being there, because getting there we had to deal with the fantasmagorical African inability to give complete directions anywhere and their equivalent inability to admit it, so they get you started going the right direction and then make the rest up.
The Mantenga beehive village was more or less authentic, and we had a tour by a village teenager who showed us the huts belonging to the different familial roles: mother, grandmother, younger sons, etc, all defined relative to one guy who was the headman of the whole shebang. We ate boiled peanuts and a spinachy greens thing and had chicken on toothpicks while we watched a performance of longcalling and drumming and feats of strength.
Our early hints of manufactured authenticity included the singing group trying to sell us their DVD and the handful of twenty-something guys in regular clothes hanging out behind the mother-in-law hut and making faces at the unmarried longcallers in between juggling a soccer ball. Then we were sure because the minibus we caught back in the direction of Manzini had a dozen of the performers in regular tracksuits talking on cell phones in the back, and I had a lovely conversation with the guy who danced the part of the witch doctor and who told us some nice restaurants to visit. It gets dark winter-early despite the summer temperatures and we had been slightly delayed by cow rush hour so it was night by the time we got back to the hotel, but we had time to make a pen pal of a preschool teacher in the capital who used to host Peace Corps volunteers.
The last day I did my two absolute favorite new-country things, visited the grocery store and had a long breakfast with a halal curry and a local newspaper. Headlines included “Fewer going to church during World Cup” and “Miss Swaziland Roundup!” and a ssSwati/English bilingual crossword where the clues didn’t say what language the answer would be in, yikes. Highlights of the grocery store were the pet section (dogs are just unIslamic, not unChristian) and the instant oxtail soup packets. We walked the last few miles to the airport and entertained a little kid with a sharkbanana as our last Swazi hurrah.