Saturday, December 13, 2008

Combis and Chaos

My last couple of days in Bulembu were without any medical problems except for some minor abdominal pain and gastro in some of the Swazi 1000 participants
I spent Thursday afternoon with my friend's- the Sullivans. I was supposed to borrow their computer so that I could type out protocols for the Clinic, but I got distracted by a much more entertaining project. They were responsible for decorating brown paper gift bags that were going to hold gifts for 65 of the older children in the orphanage. As my family will testify, I am an "ideas person". I come up with what I consider "fabulous" ideas, but often they involve a lot more work than if we just simply went with the original task at hand. I convinced the Sullivans that we were more than capable (as a team) at hand painting stars on all the bags. My "idea" was met with some hesitance, but I eventually convinced them that it was not a difficult task and the extra work would be worthwhile. I'm surprised they didn't just get a gun and shoot me.. It took hours and a lot of effort and mess to paint those damn stars, but if I do say so myself (and the Sullivan's eventually agreed), the bags turned out beautifully and those older orphans are going to wake up on Christmas Day to some very brightly coloured, lovingly made, gift bags!

In the evening, I was sitting watching "Hi-5" with the kids. I had Lily on one knee and Doris on the other. I'm not sure how much communication goes on between 3 year olds, but obviously word had got out about the mysterious soft foam under Aunty Melanie's shirt. Lily, being the braver of the two, suddenly pulled down my t-shirt and pointed at my bra asking "What's this?". Pretending that I was quite accustomed to having my breasts exposed, I proceeded to tell her that it was something you wore when you became a lady. (I have no idea where the crap that comes out of my mouth comes from). They fingered the lace and ribbon and seemed quite content with my answer. I congratulated myself on being able to make sense of the world for two 3 year old African orphans.

It's not easy getting to and from Bulembu and I was faced with the challenge of somehow making my way back to Manzini. After a morning of contemplation, I decided that my only option was public transport. Thankfully, my friend Lorraine (Social worker from Zimbabwe) was also trying to make her way to Mbabane, so we decided to travel together. The initial trip from Piggs Peak to Mbabane was quite pleasant. I insisted that we catch a big bus as I considered this the much safer option compared to the mini-buses described as "combis" here in Swaziland. The journey was pleasant and Lorraine and I talked the whole way. She was going to catch another bus from Mbabane, to Jo'Burg and then catch another bus to Zimbabwe and she had a big trip ahead of her.
When we reached Mbabane, I knew that the rest of the trip was not going to be as pleasant. No big buses are available.The bus rank contained at least 100 combis and all of them were blasting their horns trying to attract people onto their buses. People were scattered everywhere all intent on serving their own purposes. Rubbish littered the ground because here in Swaziland, it not deemed socially inappropriate to simply throw your rubbish on the ground. People were yelling and bustling around and I tried my best to pass through them with my two pieces of luggage. I eventually found the combi that would take me to Manzini. I sat down and waited for the combi to fill with passengers (there are no scheduled departure times for combis- you just have to wait until they are full before you can leave. Sometimes this can take half an hour, sometimes it can take 6 hours...) I knew I was in trouble when there was no where to store my luggage. I thought that perhaps I could pay for an extra seat and have the luggage next to me. This is not the "Swazi way" and this "fabulous idea" of mine was prohibited. Now when I say that the combi cannot leave until it is full, I mean FULL. If there is a seat for two, then it must seat at least 3 passengers, sometimes 4. I sat there as more and more passengers were being packed in like sardines. I started to verbalise my concerns about my luggage and in typical Swazi style, my concerns were brushed aside. I'm white and I'm female. I don't know shit.
Eventually, the combi was full and as I predicted, my luggage didn't fit it. People were starting to get pissed that the "white girls'" luggage was causing a problem and I was decidedly uncomfortable and yet unable to provide any solutions. Eventually, this kind Swazi man offered to hold my massive suitcase on his lap, much to my horror. I couldn't hold the suitcase as I was in a seat for two being occupied by four people. I only had one butt cheek on the seat and I couldn't balance the bag. Once we managed to close the door, we started off at speeds well above the legal limit. On combis, there is always a man who stands on the step of the combi to help maintain calm and collect the money. This guy thought nothing of leaning over me so that he could chat with his mates up front. His body was pressed up against my face and I could barely breathe. This, combined with the body odour that eminates from the sweat of others crammed up against you, makes for a very unpleasant journey. I knew I had already caused "trouble" so I didn't dare complain about his body encroaching on my personal space.
After what seemed like an eternity, we finally reached Manzini and I was suddenly able to breathe again. I then had to struggle trying to get my luggage off the combi and drag it through the bus rank (again crowded with combis, Africans and rubbish) to try and find myself a taxi to take me to my hotel. I eventaully found a "taxi" which in fact was a car that was older than me- lacked windows and a door that couldn't be opened from the inside. I seriously doubted it's ability to make it out of the bus rank, let alone get me to my destination. But, this is Africa and things continue to surprise me. I made it safely to the hotel and I was greeted by kind, Swazi (yet english speaking) staff who seemed to appreciate the fact that I was a little frazzled after my rough journey. They escorted me to my room where I proceeded to collapse on the bed. However, the bed was soft, the pillows in abundance and the room was cool thanks to air-conditioning (something I have not experienced for 5 months). After a quick meal, I settled my self into the bed, snuggled under the covers and proceeded to watch two movies. One was a Julia Roberts movie called "Dying Young" which made me cry like a baby, but this was soon followed by "Miss Congeniality" and I found myself laughing out loud. For a while there, I actually forgot that I was in Africa and I felt safe and comfortable.
Only one more sleep until I am joined by my family and I am incredibly excited. I keep hoping that their flight is uneventful and goes according to schedule. Not surprisingly, I am a little cynical and trying to prepare myself for the inevitable delays that may occur. I'm going to try to be patient and understanding, but I have no doubt that once they finally arrive, I'll probably dissolve into tears.