Crossing The Swaziland Border, With My Ex In The Trunk?
After my previous adventure in South Africa with the kids (Three Little Ladies and a Lion), next up was a mission to add another country to their list of places visited. South Africa actually borders four countries, but Namibia was too far away, they had already been to Botswana (I Once Met a Witch in Botswana), and Zimbabwe and Mozambique were just too dangerous.
Thankfully for us, landlocked within South Africa are two other easily accessible countries, The Kingdom of Lesotho and the Kingdom of Eswatini (Swaziland).
Lesotho: Previously known as Basutoland, Lesotho declared independence from the United Kingdom on 4 October 1966. The name Lesotho translates roughly into the land of the people who speak Sesotho. About 40% of the population lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day. (wikipedia)
Swaziland: At no more than 200 kilometres (120 mi) north to south and 130 kilometres (81 mi) east to west, Swaziland is one of the smallest countries in Africa. Despite its size, its climate and topography are diverse, ranging from a cool and mountainous highveld to a hot and dry lowveld. The population is primarily ethnic Swazis whose language is Swati. They established their kingdom in the mid-18th century under the leadership of Ngwane III; the present boundaries were drawn up in 1881. After the Anglo-Boer War, Swaziland was a British protectorate from 1903 until 1967. It regained its independence on 6 September 1968. (wikipedia)
Swaziland seemed ideal, and so off the girls and I set.
During the drive I was trying to teach the little ones the difference between counties, countries and continents. South Africa can be a confusing name in that regard as it sounds like it is a descriptor of southern Africa, a common mistake many adults have made when I talk about going there... ahem.
After much rehashing and not a great deal of certainty that they had grasped it yet, we pulled up to a fence that declared itself as the South African border, and a sign that said the Swazi border was 50 meters in front.
"Dad. If we are on the continent of Africa, and have now left South Africa but haven't yet got to Swaziland, what country are we in?" Much giggling told me that the little smart asses had indeed fully understood and were now throwing it right back at me :). I should never have doubted them.
The process of this particular crossing is very African. We pulled up to the near end of the building and I took our passports inside to the South African border police, they stamped us as exiting, and we got back in the car. We drove to the other end of the same building, got back out and took out passports into what was now the Swazi immigration section.
"How many are you?" / Hi. Four.
"Where is the girl's mother?" / Back in Pretoria, it's just me and the girls.
"You have a maid with you?" / Nope, just me and the girls.
"But. But where is the woman with you to look after the kids?" / Er. There isn't one.
"Oh!" / (I had hope at this point)
"Oh. There is a woman waiting for you in Swaziland to look after the kids" / ........!
Thinking I had worked through this misunderstanding, and come to the realization that crossing this border also meant going back to 1950, we dealt with the formalities of immigration forms and such. This is Africa though, and they would like a little something to make this worth their time - at this border that involves purchasing 4 clear plastic passport covers for about USD$3 a piece, (pay it and don't complain, it's a lot of money for them, and nothing for you). She stamps our passports, scribbles something on a piece of paper, tears it off her pad and off we go.
Back in the car, load up the kids, drive a whole ten yards more, and get back out for customs inspection.
"Where is your customs form?" / A little panicked, "I don't have one"
The guard leans into the car window, grabs the scrap of paper the lady had given me, and for the first time, noticed it simply said "4? Woman?".
"Open the boot" (trunk to you Americans). / Of course officer, what are you looking for?
"The girls' mother"
Yup, it was more believable to them that their mum was stuffed into my boot than a man could be traveling with kids on his own. Much to his surprise, and some confusion from my youngest who at this point got quite excited and thought mum had come along with us after all, the boot was indeed laden with just suitcases.
When we arrived at the hotel an hour or so later, (with giraffe in the name again of course), we met some of the most friendly and welcoming people I have ever come across, a common feeling we had in their country. The women who worked at the hotel were incredibly helpful, but were also confused about the lack of a female in our party.
On the first night they came over after they finished work to offer to bathe the children for me. I politely declined, and thought I had the whole thing cleared up once and for all, so when they came back in a larger party the next night I was somewhat annoyed. Turns out they had believed me about handling the simple task of bedtime, but they wanted to bring their friends over to watch a man do it!