Swaziland: Day 4

The team’s done a very full day today, with four distributions in Bulembu – further north from Pigg’s Peak.

The Specials obviously didn’t have Bulembu in mind when they wrote the words “This town is coming like a ghost town.” But that song offers the most apt description of the place. Years ago, the whole life of Bulembu revolved around the asbestos mine situated there. The mine closed in 2001 – and that, combined with the onslaught of HIV, led to Bulembu becoming deserted very quickly. Even today, there are loads of buildings lying empty. But then a handful of entrepreneurs and social developers (led by a Christian businessman) started buying properties there and setting up various income-generating projects. The gift shop next door to Virginia’s restaurant proudly sells jars of honey with the Bulembu logo on; a product of one of the small businesses that have sprung up there and are helping give the place a new lease of life (and which, at this very moment, I’m having with some lemon and ginger, in an attempt to get rid of the stupid sore throat I seem to have picked up this week).

The Bulembu Christian Academy (another of these regeneration projects) is easily the most advanced and well resourced of all the schools we’ve seen so far on this trip. Jon Skinner (the school’s head teacher, who’s originally from England) gave us a guided tour, then explained to the assembled children who we were and what we were doing. The team left the gifts for the staff to distribute later, rather than do the whole handing out thing.

Just next door to the Bulembu Academy was the location of Gift Drop 2: a nursery school with lots of toddlers. We were told that 18 of the kids who usually attend weren’t there today because their fees had not yet been paid. No reason why they should be left out of receiving gifts, so 18 boxes were kept aside for when they come back.

Drop 3 was another nearby school. But this time, the kids came to us, as their school is situated up a rather treacherous hill that our vehicle would have had problems getting up. It must have been really bad; the ones we did drive up to get here were tough enough as it is!

After the schools, the team were driven to a royal kraal, where the most shambolic distribution we’ve had took place. Again there were little kids who associate white faces with injections (cue lots of screaming – not the nice kind). One lad tried to nick a box and got a beatdown from the Royal Runners for his troubles. Yours Truly got yelled at for leaning on a flagpole. The usual…

A lady wearing black was turned away when she tried to collect a parcel for her child. Bish Zakes explained to us later that in Swazi culture, women in mourning are not allowed near royal residences, and have to keep some distance from public places generally. One or two team members were a bit put off at the thought of someone missing out – especially someone who was bereaved. But Zakes promised to find the lady and make sure she received something. He’s good like that…


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