Greetings on our last day in Swaziland!
God’s everlasting joy and blessings to you. Our last day involves a little of everything, a game drive, one more visit to Ntabas, and a drop in on the home that has progressed over the weekend while we were away from the worksite.
The clouds nestle over the valleys in between the mountains, a thin wispy blanket covers the countryside. We are heading to the Hlane (pronounced Shl-aw-nee except the “sh” sound happens mid-mouth by pushing the sides of the tongue towards the inner cheeks and thrusting the air through the gap created between the cheeks and tongue) game drive. Elliott takes us north out of Manzini to a 10,000 hectare preserve, designated by the king in 1996, to help rebuild certain animal populations. Poachers, in recent years, have delivered a devastating blow to the rhinoceros population, the park losing almost 90% of their rhinos. The park now sequesters the rhinos to their own section to keep them safe. Rhino horns sell at a very high price on the black market.
Today is my birthday and what a memorable way to celebrate! First, we sign the waiver to not hold Hlane responsible if we get eaten or injured. Next, we split into two groups and climb aboard Toyota Land Cruisers with open-air, stadium seating equipped for up to ten passengers. Our vehicles take different routes so that one can alert the other of animal activity.
The African bush is thick and unapologetically thorny. We drive on worn, dusty trails weaving through the park passing through gates from one section to another. Dead trees, like claws reaching up through the bush, line the horizon, a sign that elephants are active and well-fed. Our guide assures us that these trees stripped bare by the elephants provide favored perches for large birds of prey and a buffet of bugs for smaller birds to feast. “Elephants eat everywhere” he tells us,” and elephants poop everywhere spreading germinated seeds. They are good for the park’s ecology.”
Sfeso (sp?), a young A.I.M. shepherd, who has found success by running his own piggery, joins us on the drive. He has never been on a game drive and wants to see a giraffe. The other driver beckons over the radio. We drive to meet the other group and see a small pride of two young, blond-maned, male lions and three females basking in the sun, bellies full. Next, we drive up to two elephants grazing heavily on wild grass. Oone intimidatingly large bull is missing a tusk, and a young whipper-snapper is following along. Impalas and Inyalas, the park’s “fast-food”, skittishly roam the park in herds, staring and darting as we come near. Giraffes appear and disappear walking through the trees, skilled adversaries for hide-and-seek even at 18 feet tall. We finally catch a group of young giraffe bulls loitering around some acacia trees up to no good, I am sure. They glide through the trees and bush carefree to our presence. Sfeso delights with joy.
Along the way to find rhinos, we spot a warthog with two young, and one wildebeest ducking behind small trees. Rhinos are massive, armored blocks with long cylindrical heads tipped with terse lips, flanked with cone-shaped ears and beady eyes and armed at the center with two horns. The horn closest to the mouth is up to three feet long, sharp at the tip, and the second horn is shorted and dull at the tip. Rhinos, unlike elephants, have designated potties and we definitely arrived at potty-time. One big fella became agitated at our gawking a politely asked us to leave.
The awe and wonder of God’s creation overwhelms us as we finish the drive and share our experiences with each other.
Next stop Ntabas and a meal of chicken dust named for grilling the chicken in tiny huts along the dusty roads. We had fun-day with the children at Ntabas on Friday, and now, Monday afternoon, we are anxious to see them one last time. Stunning, deep brown eyes locked on the bus pulling into the care point. Fewer children are here this afternoon, but we eagerly jump out of the bus to play. I miss my family at home terribly; however, leaving these little ones wrenches my heart.
The ladies stay behind with the children while the men leave for the homestead under construction. What a delight! The floor is dry, window frames are set, and the last of the three doors is being installed. We join the work; setting the water tank to catch rain water from the roof, assisting with the door and clearing the worksite of trash and debris. We can go home knowing that Nebole (sp?) and his sister have a safe home, protect from the elements. When they arrive home from school, we incircle them while Benjamin prayed and gave them some words of encouragement.
The last supper in Swaziland is our choice between Spur and Ocean Basket – grazers or swimmers. Some of us had eaten at a Spur on one of our stops in South Africa, and we wanted to try local fish. The dinner conversation pours with the spirit, reminiscing our time here. The time passed quickly, yet the trip seemed longer, we packed each day with the activity of two. Building relationships while serving God alongside our Swazi brothers and sisters invites what Ignatius of Loyola calls “magis” or “more”. Each day experiencing more of God through personal connections, sharing fits and talents, and bountiful fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Dinner closed with “happy birthday” played over the restaurant speakers and ice cream drizzled with caramel and-chocolate. My wide grin turned to puzzled confusion when the waitress spoon fed me the first bite of ice cream. Honestly, the last time someone fed me desert was my beautiful bride on our wedding day. The awkward moment lacked panache. Perhaps a warning or even a rehearsal to set the choreography could have helped smooth the presentation. I was not sure what was happening or what to do. Was I making a commitment? Was I properly dressed for this? I opened my mouth enough for her to dab a little ice cream on my lips then promptly took the spoon into my own hands. I will be ready next time.
God has a dream for each one of us to walk in His light, share our talents, and receive His grace. Life is sacred, every life we encounter has a path and dream loved by the God of the universe. We are called to shine His light from our hearts for others to join Christ, find their path, and realize their dream. Driving back through Swaziland and South Africa, I am reminded that the landscape is a metaphor for the people – rugged and a breathtakingly beautiful reminder of God’s providence and wonder. Hallelujah!