Swazi Style

Oshoek Border Post,


August 3, 2016

I was in a minibus heading to Manzini in Swaziland. The others on the bus were all from Swaziland, but working in Johannesburg and heading home on a two-day holiday. Most were traders who buy goods in Johannesburg and sell them in Swaziland. The woman next to me proudly stated that she sold handbags for a hundred percent profit. She goes back and forth each week; that was enough time to exhaust her stock. I imagined Swazi women in their chitenges, each accessorized perfectly with a new handbag.

Spirits ran high along with the decibel level inside as they chattered, laughed and shared stories. All of them spoke Siswati, the language of Swaziland that is almost the same as Zulu. I understood nothing, barring a word here and there but occasionally got a translation if I asked. While they were polite and helpful, they were neither curious nor particularly open toward foreigners. Does this mean they have seen too many foreigners and are therefore blasé? Or is it that they are an incurious peoples, I wondered.

Entering the border post from South Africa, one is greeted by an overflowing dispenser of condoms, ignored completely by the locals as we shuffled up to the kiosks. A commendable effort on the part of the government I thought, given that the percentage of people with AIDS and HIV here is the highest in the world at more than 30%. The relaxed attitude toward sex was reflected in the jokes on the bus; the funniest ones were apparently the raunchiest. The bus driver has two wives, explained one of the passengers when I asked. But he wants more and the conversation that followed apparently involved tales of recruitment of candidates, helpful suggestions coming from all the passengers. A couple of women at the back of the bus offered themselves. I witty repartee from the driver had them all guffawing but I could not tell if he accepted one or both or neither.

We got stamped out and stamped in without a fuss; if there were bribes negotiated and paid for the goods, it was done subtly enough not to be noticed. Gone was the frenetic energy of South Africa; here everything happens at a relaxed, almost somnolent pace.

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