Monthly Archives: June 2010

I BELIEVE. DON’T EAT ME.

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.

There are no black people in Switzerland stop lying.

Friday morning (is there such a thing as a Friday in Africa? Let’s call it “the day after Italy-Slovakia”), Hugo boarded a plane to Durban for the Brazil-Portugal game for which he could have sold his tickets for $5,000 but didn’t because he is a superfan, while Semi and I boarded a marginally shorter flight to Matsapha, Swaziland. One slight note to Lonely Planet, otherwise a remarkable and complete resource, you really should mention that Swaziland works on a different currency than South Africa (expected!) but that there are no ATMs or bureaux de change at the INTERNATIONAL airport (unexpected!), although they do sell unexpired Tab soda.

The Mountain Inn is charming, on a beautiful hill overlooking Mbabane, so there are twinkling lights at night and great vistas in the day. We walked downtown to the louage station and took a shared minibus with Beyonce on the radio to Oshoek, the border crossing. A friendly, opportunistic minibus driver at the banana seller’s volunteered enthusiastically to take us to Hawane Dam and waterfalls, but was less enthusiastic when we got there and wanted to walk around, not just look at them and go. He was even less enthusiastic when I found a snake by stepping on it, but soldiered bravely on for his day’s financial windfall.

I also established through questioning that he had been exposed to physics and chemistry in highschool, but probably not biology (Two balls hitting, flying off at angles? Nod, yes. Two liquids, pour, whoosh? Nod, yes. Frogs, cut up, microscope? Emphatic head shaking, no.)

We found a mostly authentic beehive village acting as a family resort and caught a louage from Hawane back to Mbabane during rush hour, which was fantastic because I sat next to a guy who told me all about local music and we went immediately to the CD seller after disembarking to look for Parlotones, Just Jinger, Loch in Ville, and Prime Circle, all of which turn out to be poppy and happy and could do well over here if they had the right management, hint, hint.

Back at the hotel there was a conference dinner in progress and one of the local princesses of the Dlamini dynasty was hostessing wearing what I think of as a prom dress.

get up you poof he only kicked you in the lung

Another brilliant day of food-soccer-food-drink-sleep but with a twist. Italy played Slovakia overconfidently and lost embarassingly, with a soundtrack of Semi’s beginner random outcries of “¡Vamos!” and “¡Crúcelo!” basically arbitrarily, vs. Hugo’s more advanced cheering tactics, and it didn’t help either way because the Italians kept falling over and forgetting to score, until the end, when they panicked, and it didn’t work.

Since we (“we”) had been cheering for Italy, we were depressed, so we caught a cab from the outside of Ellis Park and asked the Zimbabwean driver to take us somewhere local for dinner. He took us to an Islamic restaurant in a terrifying ghetto, so we politely asked to go somewhere nicer, and ended up at Mandela Square again, but this time we went to the Taste of Africa buffet instead of the NewsCafe. It was great! Great, great, great. They painted our faces like Zulus (mine means unavailable, married), grilled bananas over ground springbok and called it batotie, and played drums and danced with bangles. South African food is Indian food in cognito with an African protein and porridge instead of rice as the starch, viz, ostrich samosa with pap.

This is the wildlife we have encountered to date.

acrobatic and mean-spirited

The Blue Citroën of Glory had popped a link on the two hour drive back to Jo’burg from Rustenberg and we made the last dozen miles in third gear with the back seat just holding on tight as we careened straight through traffic circles and prayed for green at robots, but the mechanic came by the next morning and twist-tied it back together so we were in business at the crack of noon, which was lucky, because we had scalped tickets for the USA-Algeria game in Tshwane (Pretoria) for $20 and our same-day Ghana-Germany seats.

Pretoria (to use the oppressive name out of habit) is an hour or so away, but by now we were experts at highway etiquette (pull over to the left when someone wants to overtake and they will flash their blinkers as a thank you) and unfazed by the massive burning, which we determined after surveying the natives to be either intentional highway beautification or uncontrolled trash burning. Hiring a car is an absolute necessity because Jo’burg is a sprawling disaster, but I do recommend having more than one CD to choose from, especially if the one CD is the Spanish version of the official World Cup soundtrack and you are going to be there more than a week or so.

We painted our faces roadside using my leftover German Carnival paint and were apparently so attractive (or weird) that a photographer from the Pretoria Star hung out with us for the entire pregame as we became Captain America and friends. Hugo scalped a Category 4 ticket reserved for South Africans but we all snuck down to the US Soccer Federation section where they knew real chants and how and when to cheer.

Plucky as the Americans were, they held out for a heart-infarction 92’ minute goal to beat Algeria 1-0, drenching me and 85,000 of my closest friends in beer and making even the hardiest Mexican learn the vuvuzela. The madness moved to Hatfield Square, which we eventually found, and smoked Cuban cigars in an Australian bar surrounded by enthusiastic Kenyans cheering on Ghana with dying-baby mini-vuvuzelas. Algerians and Americans had a total love-in somehow, teary eyed and sincere, pounding each other on the back and explaining what a good game it had been on both sides, which I guess is the point of international competition in the end.

Back to Mandela Square in Joburg for a nice homey News Cafe visit and traditional breakfast with sunup.

“Ladies. Dude.”

Semi was standing at JNB customs as instructed and we took the new Gautrain (first and I think only public transportation of the trip) to our hotel where we relaxed for about four minutes before Hugo forced Mexico jerseys on us and whisked us to Rustenberg for the Group A Uruguay game. The rental car was a blue Citroën that could hold five, so gave two New Yorkers named Kate and Alexa a ride from Melrose Square.

Rustenberg is a stupid place for a stadium, even a small 35,000 seater, where even trying to get to the Park N Ride was a series of blind guesses and wrong turns based on where the cars full of luchadors were heading but NOT, importantly, based on directions from locals, after a gas station attendant asked “What stadium?” when we wondered where it might be. The golf stadium, genius. Anyway the scenery looks like San Diego, except that most of the highways are on fire, most of the time (on which more later).

First thing to notice about my first World Cup game with scalped tickets was that thankfully, Latin Americans don’t understand the vuvuzela, or I would be deaf. We sat in the Mexican section with men from the San Francisco Mission (really) blowing conch shells and shouting, and nobody had lost their voice yet, and Budweiser was still $5, so it was a nice gentle introduction to this scary foreign country. Even though Mexico lost, the mariachis put on a good show back at Melrose Square where we returned to dance and sing and juggle footballs before going for the first of many nights in a row to the NewsCafe in Sandton.

Three week old travel notes indicate that even though my upgrade hadn’t gone through, my SFO-FRA seatmate was an agreeable Fijian Googler on his way to a security conference in Sweden and that FRA differentiates itself as my favorite airport because it has adequate electrical outlets. I used my German GSM phone to try and text Danny’s rented Peruvian phone located at the time in Colombia, or something. An auspicious start to a trip.