What Lies Beneath: Real Life Experiences in Swaziland

And remember, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”- Matt. 28:20

Grace and peace to each of you in the name of the Living Christ.

During the past few months we have received several e-mails and letters inquiring about our lives in Swaziland. Common questions like: “What is the weather like?”  “What is the food like?” and “Have you assimilated yet” are regular, but good questions. Therefore, we have decided to write an article entitled “What Lies Beneath: Real Life Experiences in Swaziland” in recognition of the fact that everything that looks the same on the outside is not the same on the inside. In other words, many things that looked and felt familiar when we first arrived became distinctively different over time. Here are just a few examples. A new one comes up at least once a week. Who knows, if we collect enough of them we may end up writing a book someday (smile)

And remember, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”- Matt. 28:20

Grace and peace to each of you in the name of the Living Christ.

During the past few months we have received several e-mails and letters inquiring about our lives in Swaziland. Common questions like: “What is the weather like?”  “What is the food like?” and “Have you assimilated yet” are regular, but good questions. Therefore, we have decided to write an article entitled “What Lies Beneath: Real Life Experiences in Swaziland” in recognition of the fact that everything that looks the same on the outside is not the same on the inside. In other words, many things that looked and felt familiar when we first arrived became distinctively different over time. Here are just a few examples. A new one comes up at least once a week. Who knows, if we collect enough of them we may end up writing a book someday (smile)

We could call them “The Top Eleven Ways to Know That You’re Not in the US Anymore”

ATM Machines- upon establishing a bank account we were offered ATM cards. It is a good thing, because the fee for using an ATM machine in lieu of going to a teller is about one-fifth of the cost. Each month, we have to transfer money from our US bank account to our local account to pay bills. Knowing that we did not have a check to deposit we inquired about the process in which one deposits cash. The customer service representative simply said: “You can deposit cash here, it is not a problem.” What lies beneath is the fact that Swazi’s are basically honest people. And we must add “So far, so good.” Yet, often when something negative happens in the marketplace, another immigrant group always gets the blame. Sound familiar to anyone?

Cell phones- when one walks down the street it is not unusual to hear the familiar ring tone of one of the popular models of NokiaTM cell phones. It seems like everybody has a cell phone. Young, old, rich, poor, male, female.  It doesn’t matter. When we first got our cell phone (we share one) it was common for the phone to ring once and then the message “missed call” would pop up. We’d ask ourselves, how could we have missed the call, it only rang once? Well, what lies beneath is the fact that people will ring you once and hang up, expecting you to call them back. That way you pay for the call, they don’t (over here, only the caller pays.) Everyone has a phone, but many of them have no calling credits. Yet, it is good to have one in case of emergency. A second thing about the cell phones here is that they use SIM technology. A SIM card is basically a computer chip that is manually installed into the phone by the user. It’s easy to install, it is right behind the battery. Well, as you may know our work regularly takes us through many parts of Swaziland, Mozambique, and South Africa. And to make a long story short, we have a SIM card for every country. So, each time we cross a border, we have to change our SIM cards. Yes, you can get a phone with the “roaming” feature, but it’s a lot cheaper to pop out the old card and pop in a new one.

Fires Burning- in our past lives we would show great caution and alarm when we smelled, saw, or heard the crackle of a fire burning. One day as we approached our apartment we noticed a plume of smoke coming from our designated direction. In the end, all was well. What lied beneath is the fact that a gardener was just doing his job by burning the shrub cuttings of the day. Only that day, he did a lot of work.

Grocery Store- often in a grocery store, when an item goes on sale, the shelf becomes empty, but sooner or later the shelf is replenished. At first site, you will notice that the grocery stores here are big and beautiful. They look like any Giant, Cub Foods, Albertsons, Pathmark, Safeway, and Pavilions store in the US. Well, here in Swaziland, we have learned to get it while they have it! What lies beneath is the fact that when something runs out you may not see it on the shelf again for a looonngggg while.

Gas Station- the other day at the gas station we requested the attendant to fill up our car. With a joking tone, we asked, “do you have any diesel today?” The fact is that the last three times we were at the station closest to our home, they didn’t have any diesel. Well, the fill up began and about half way through the process a light colored fume started coming out of the pump. Sure enough, the underground tank had run out again. What lies beneath is the fact that you should never allow your tank to fall too far below half, because it may not always be there when you want it.

Money- Wherever you go in the world, there is always a system of exchange. Thankfully, we only have to deal in currencies. In our world, although others do, we only use money to conduct transactions (no livestock, grain, vegetables, etc.) For the most part Swazi money is only good in Swaziland (called the emalangeni- about 6.3 to 1 USD), and Mozambican money (called meticais is only good in Mozambique-about 25000 meticais to 1USD). South African rand and US dollars are fairly universal in our area. Upon paying a bill in a Mozambican restaurant, Wayne became confused. What lied beneath was the fact that in his small unassuming wallet, he was carrying four different currencies simultaneously. Though neatly arranged, it took us a moment to realize what country we were in and what the appropriate currency was that night. Wayne said, “I guess it is a habit, no matter where I am in the world, I always carry a little bit of my “home currency”(US dollars) for those “just in case moments.”

Pharmaceuticals- In May Ingrid picked up a sinus infection. Admittedly we fretted and frowned, not knowing what to do. Basically, all the other times she got an infection we had to go to the doctor, get a prescription, have the prescription filled, and proceed forward. Well, what lies beneath is that in Swaziland one can purchase any drug or pharmaceutical over the counter without a prescription…at low prices. One young man told us, “in Swaziland, you can buy what you want to kill yourself if you want to.” That day, it was good for us… not too good for Swazi’s in the long run. And just so you know, Ingrid has been quite well ever since.

The meaning of “We’ll make a plan”- in many parts of the world, money is hard to come by. What one quickly learns is that when an opportunity to make a little bit of money comes your way, you do what you have to, “to make that money.” What lies beneath is that when someone says “we’ll make a plan” they are really saying “I don’t have it right now, but let’s talk about it because I can make it happen real soon.”

The meaning of “After Lunch:” In many places around the world, “lunch time” is at the center of the day…somewhere between noon and two.  Here one quickly learns to ask specifically what time someone is talking about when they say “after lunch” because it means different things to everybody. What lies beneath is the unknown about time in a place where time is circular and not linear as it is in western cultures. Once, our building repairman said that he was coming back “after lunch”. Let’s just say, around four in the afternoon, he returned.

Utilities- like many other countries that were once colonized by the British, Swaziland has a good infrastructure. If one has the money to pay for them, common household conveniences are readily available….”until”… What lies beneath is that the “untils” occur at regular intervals. The telephone line might go down and no one knows when it will come back on. The electricity will go off, and although so far we can assume that it will be back on within the hour, you don’t really know. While we too remember the great black out of the US east and Midwest in 2003, we did at least have a gas-powered stove/oven. Here, everything is electric so, no electricity no cooking. So, these days, we have learned to thank God for the little things. Lights, water, a telephone line, and oh yeah, satellite television!

Weather- in many of the first letters that we received from home, the first question that most people asked us was “how is the weather?” That is a really good question because most people assume that it is hot here all of the time. In other words, if you’re in Africa, take your mosquito net, mosquito spray, 100+ SPF sunscreen lotions, and a hat for sure. What lies beneath is the fact that we are in Southern Africa, so many of our weather patterns come up from the South Pole…Antarctica. In fact, during the months of June and July temperatures would regularly fall to 38 degrees Fahrenheit in Mbabane (the capital city of Swaziland) at night. So, next time you see one of our pictures and see us with long sleeves on or even a sweater, you too will be reminded of your mother who probably told you to never leave home (or the country) without at least one sweater!

Well, we hope you enjoyed reading about our part of the world. We are not sure if we answered the question “Have you assimilated yet?” Interestingly enough, in one of the preparatory books that we read prior to our departure from the US, the author stated that we will never fully assimilate, because no matter what and no matter how long we stay here, our experiences that we had prior to arrival will continuously have an impact on who we are as persons. So, I guess the answer to that question is, “we are learning to live, to love, and to learn in a culture very different from our own and everyday we get a little closer to things being “normal and regular.” Finally, do you know where Swaziland is on a map? If not, let us help you. First, find a globe or a map. Start at the top of the African continent, follow the eastern coastline, and sooner or later between South Africa and Mozambique you will find Swaziland. Do you see us? We live in the country that lies beneath (north), next to (west), and above (south) South Africa. Mozambique is to our east.

Peace and blessings to you all,

Ingrid and Wayne Wilson
Your Missionaries in Swaziland and Mozambique
 
Wayne and Ingrid Wilson are missionaries with the Kukhany'okusha Zion Church. They are development project officers.