Posts Tagged ‘Jo-burg’

Swaziland Update

March 11th, 2011 3 comments

It is early Friday morning here in Swaziland.  I am still a bit jetlagged from the trip over here and figured rather than fighting sleep, I would get up and be productive by writing a quick update.

Being back in Swaziland is a unique feeling because even though it is very foreign compared in my daily life in the US (especially here in the bush), it feels very familiar.

My travels over here were thankfully uneventful.  My plane got delayed in Nashville, but I had a long layover in DC and it didn’t cause a problem.  The flight from DC to Johannesburg (via Dakar) seemed to go by quicker this time, even though we had a backup plane without all the in-flight entertainment systems.  I had a reserved a seat with extra leg room, but because of the plane change, it didn’t work out.  Luckily, the seat next to me was vacant so I could spread out a bit more.

Once I got to Jo-burg I spent the evening in a guesthouse right near the airport and it worked out great.  Unfortunately, even though I had a 13 hour layover, I still was only able to catch a few hours of sleep because of the jetlag and an early morning flight.  I was surprised how easy it was to get through customs and airport security in Africa compared to the states.  One of the security agents actually got frustrated with me because I was taking off my belt and watch – he insisted I just go on through.  The flight from Jo-burg to Manzini was incredibly short (35 minutes in the air) and has me rethinking whether its worth it to drive that last leg when we come in July or if we should just bite the bullet and fly.

When I arrived in Swaziland the customs agent gave me a hard time for bringing in 50 pounds of children’s underwear.  They wanted to charge me duty on it, but luckily after I filled out the forms they just waived me through and forgot about the whole thing.  I was then met by a nurse who is currently volunteering at Cabrini.  Besides just coming into town to pick me up (its a 1.5 hour drive to Manzini and 2 hours to Mbabane), she also had to get her visa renewed.  So, we went to one of the government building to see an immigration agent.  All I can say is that if you think there is crazy bureaucracy and inefficiencies in American government… you haven’t seen anything.  After waiting nearly an hour, the nurse I was with was told she couldn’t have her visa renewed in town, and instead would have to cross the border and return to get it updated. 

Because I didn’t want to risk having my luggage go through customs again and because I didn’t want to have more pages in my passport taken up, I asked to be dropped off.  Luckily I was able to reconnect with Jon Skinner, one of the guys we met with last trip, and he went out of his way to give me a place to hang out while the nurse crossed the border.

On the way back to St. Phillips we picked up one of the ladies who works in the office and took care of a few errands.  Then, on the last stretch of dirt road we ran into Sister Barbara who was heading into town.  She is one of the nuns in charge of Cabrini Ministries, and I had actually yet to meet her.  Unfortunately she was in a hurry and needed the vehicle we were driving.  So, after a few quick greetings, we exchanged the plush SUV we were in for a small truck.  Because of space limitations, I ended up riding in the back.

The whole journey from Bowling Green to Cabrini encompassed about 48 hours of travel!  Thankfully we had a pretty open schedule when I arrived because jetlag hit me hard.  I ended up going about 56 hours straight on less than 4 hours of sleep.  The only major thing we had besides a quick orientation was a 2 hour discussion with one of the community elders about the history of Cabrini, Swaziland and local customs.  It was very fascinating, but I felt horrible because it was all I could do to not nod off.  That night we ate an excellent curry meal and I retired to bed early.

Thursday was my first full day at Cabrini and up until that point I still didn’t have a great idea of what exactly I was doing in Swaziland.  It is not because things are disorganized, instead it is that so much is going on, there isn’t always time to explain everything.  Turns out my big task here this week is to figure out how we are going to handle the finances of Cabrini once our accountant leaves.  Looks like we will have two office workers handling the day-to-day transactions and another professional accountant in Australia who will handle the technical stuff.  I will probably end up serving as  the liaison and keeping an eye on the big picture – but, we won’t know the specifics until later in the week.

Most of my day on Thursday was actually spent working on an upcoming grant application through Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control.  Basically we have less than a week to turn around this application for $50,000.  The rest of the office staff had a board meeting to attend to, so they left me and the accountant from Australlia to figure out the grant on our own.  It was certainly a "baptism by fire" sort of thing as we wrote up a narrative and budget for a program that neither of us fully understand.  We will find out today how far off we were.  Either was helpful because it forced us to work through many old proposals that gave us a good feel for what was currently going on and for the direction we are trying to expand into.

Today we will heading into the two largest cities (Mbabane and Manzini) to meet with some of our supporters.  Should be a good trip.  I am looking forward to meeting up with Todd Malone from PACT again.  Todd is actually the guy who convinced us to go visit Cabrini and had lots of solid advice on working through our move.  Saturday is set aside as more of relaxing day and I am not sure what Sunday has for us.  Starting Monday, we will really hit the finances hard and work on a transition plan.

As I am wrapping up this post, I wanted to give you a quick note about communication.  Right now I have my swazi cell phone (268 7683 3330), but service has been intermitted.  Beth has only been able to reach me on my phone once out of probably 20 attempts and text messages are not going through.  I can call out, but it costs me about $1.00 a minute.  Also, my plans to limited access to internet have fallen through.  The 3G USB modem I have works fine, but I have not been able to get my SIM card approved for data usage.  Hopefully that will get worked out soon, but for now I don’t have access to internet.  (I am writing this post in advance hoping we find some wireless that I can use and post it).

I will try and keep you posted as things unfold, but realistically, my communication abilities are much more limited than I expected. 



Arriving in Africa

July 13th, 2010 4 comments

After nearly 24 hours of travel, we have arrived in Africa.  For the most part things went smoothly without incident, but we did have a few close calls.

Our flight from Nashville to DC was held on the tarmac for about 30 minutes for “weight and balance” issues.  Basically were told we could not depart until 4 people voluntarily removed themselves from the flight.  Eventually two people did so and that was enough to get us going.  Sitting in the cramped cabin that extra time didn’t help my claustrophobia, but I managed to make it without having to resort to taking Xanax.

The flight from DC to Jo-burg via Dakar, Senegal was long, but uneventful.  The crew was great, the food was decent, and even though 18 hours is a long time to sit on a plane, it wasn’t as difficult as I was expecting.

When we deboarded the airplane, we were quickly reminded that it is winter here in the southern hemisphere.  It wasn’t freezing, but definitely pretty chilly for a short-sleeved shirt.

Customs and baggage claims were a breeze as was exchanging money and renting the car.  It was easier to navigate the international section of Jo-burg airport than it was Dulles.

Once we picked up the car, the real fun began.  In planning for this trip, I have not been nervous about the standard things.  I am not worried about the plane crashing, or our luggage getting lost, or carjackers, or lions (or tigers and bears), or black mambas.  But, I have fretted over learning to drive on the other side of the road.

I don’t know if it was self-fulfilling prophecy, or if it really is that big of a transition, but the 20 minutes from the airport to our lodging was by far the most stressful part of the trip so far:  Every time I tried to use my turn signal I turned on the windshield wipers; Beth has to remind me every time I turned to not go straight into the path of incoming traffic; I am constantly hugging the left side of the road, and; it still freaks me out to see cars coming at me on the right. 

It didn’t help that the highway we traveled on was under construction and had concrete rails on either side.  Nor did it help my confidence to witness the car next to be get rear-ended as a semi tried to merge into my lane.

I am hoping the worst of jt is over (knock on wood) and am looking forward to driving on the more open country roads instead of the city.

Tomorrow  (technically “today” since I am writing this at 3:00am due to jet lag keeping me awake) we will drive the 5-6 hours to Swaziland and enter in through the Bulembu border crossing.  We have a brief tour of Bulembu then we are staying with the Director of Operations at his home.  On Thursday is when the real fun begins with all of our meetings scheduled.

Can’t wait to get the traveling out of the way so we can get to the heart of our trip.

So far we have been lucky with internet, and hope to be able to post updates along the way, but there are no guarantees.  Even if we can’t post, we will keep some notes so we can update you on the details of our trip as it progresses. 


Categories: Swaziland Tags: , , ,