We’ve posted a lot about our various activities & routines so far, but I’m going to try to answer the question I’ve received a few times: “what’s it like to be there?” This being my first time in Africa, and first time living outside of the US, I didn’t know how it would truly ‘feel’ to be here. Hopefully this post sheds some light.
- Heat: the average high temp so far have been in the 80’s. With the seasons inverted here, we arrived in early spring in September. Warmer than home, but pleasant overall. Some evenings have been quite hot, but we’ve gotten acclimated pretty well. We hit a few 60-degree days and found ourselves pulling on all the layers. Getting back to Seattle in December is going to be a shock!
- We’re technically into the rainy season: but here, the rain doesn’t last for more than a few hours and so far it hasn’t heavily rained on back-to-back days often. Rain often comes with heavy winds/thunderstorms – it will literally rain sideways – and it makes the river down the hill from us really roar the next few days.
- Pollution/smog hasn’t been a problem – the only air quality haze are when farmers burn their fields to prepare for planting, which happens often. But most days are fairly clear, gives awesome views of the valleys and hills.
- Humidity has bearable so far, but we’re heading into summer, so, fingers crossed!
Fun Fact: we unofficially measure humidity by how difficult it is to shuffle the cards during our daily lunch break cribbage game.
- People in Swaziland are generally friendly: talking with each other enjoyably, lots of laughing. When we greet anyone (from grocery cashier to customs officer to gas station attendant) – the default greeting is a friendly “Hello, how are you?” – to which people generally respond with “I’m fine,” and then the conversation moves to the topic at hand. This cadence also has been our experience in South Africa – much friendlier than back home.
- Although I feel we do get the occasional second glance, for the most part we’re not afforded special treatment. One tip I had heard might happen is that people would encourage us to “cut” to the front of a queue. Happy to report that hasn’t happened – we’ve waited our proper turn!
- Except for times where we’ve taken a significantly wrong turns and end up way off the beaten path (thanks Google Maps), for the most part people here don’t seem ‘surprised’ to see two tall, skinny Americans out and about. However, we are aware that we stand out a little and strive to be as conscientious as possible in every interaction. This isn’t rocket science (shout out to my mom for reading Uncommon Courtesy for Kids when we were young) but we do take extra care here.
- Although Swaziland never had anything like apartheid (indeed, many companies and individuals relocated here during that time in South Africa seeking stability), there are limited areas of racial mixing. For example, Malendela’s Farm Restaurant/Bar has ~75% white customers any given time we’ve visited. There doesn’t seem to be an “unwritten” rule preventing mixing, but it seems people stick within their own spaces. One exception is The Gables – a giant, western-style outdoor shopping area that has people of all walks of life – and the KFC (only US fast food chain in the country) always has a line!
Within Swaziland, the western half of the country is mountainous/hilly with beautiful valleys between – think western Montana or Colorado. Sections here are almost mile high in elevation – including the capital city, Mbabane. The eastern half of the country is flatter and more lush/tropical – think parts of Hawaii. But, everywhere seems to be covered in the same red dirt!
Geologically, this part of Africa contains some of the oldest rocks in the world. I’ve appreciated the unique rocks all over the place – like a giant boulder in the middle of a field, or red pointy rocks rising from an otherwise mundane hillside. Back home, the Cascades / Olympic mountains with their evergreen trees provide an awesome but consistent image. Here, rising over a hill or turning into a valley, there is a lot more variability in what you will see.
Overall, compared to Seattle, this part of Africa has been easy to “be” in. Definitely has exceeded my expectations, and after over two months here, starting to feel like home. In fact, when traveling last week, I kept having to differentiate home between “Swazi home” and “Seattle home.”