This was my third trip with Traveleyes, a company that organises visually impaired (VI) people to go on holiday. Many years ago I had approached the company as I was sure that eSwatini would make a great destination for VIs. The main issue is convincing VIs that a safari is not all about seeing the animals, which most of us think it is, it is also about the noise, the smell and the actual feel of the safari, as well as all the other activities that I had arranged.
Not only did we go on safari and have close encounters with elephants, rhinos and lions – one of the elephant meetings was rather noisy as it trumpeted at us as we reversed at high speed away from it, we also visited and experienced a plethora of other things in the action packed nine days. We visited a homestead and a local chief, went on a boat cruise, listened to local dancing, were taught how candles were handcrafted and had a go ourselves, had the bones thrown for us by the local traditional healer, tasted swazi meals and visited a school for deaf and blind children. We felt skulls and skins from wildlife found in the country, learnt to track animals, got excited about the variety of bird calls and listened to the head ranger talk about the importance of conservation and how her recently survived a lion attack, which had us all on the edge of our seats. He has the scars to prove it.
All this was interspersed with far too much food, which was all delicious – no chance of losing weight on this trip, and we slept in unique and stylish settings to the sounds of the African wildlife. I love being part of this trip.
The most memorable thing this time around was a visit to a local school in the highveld near Foresters Arms. I had extended the trip by one day and we had an extra night at the wonderful Foresters Arms, well known for its delicious food and wonderful staff, everyone who goes to Foresters glazes over when you mention it, probably as they are trying to recall the 8 course meal that they had there! The variety of breads, pancakes, muffins etc for breakfast is also a hard choice along with the long list of items to have with your cooked breakfast. I advise at least an hour for breakfast here.
Bhekephe School is about 15 mins drive from Foresters and we had arranged with the Head to be there at 8.00am, in time for morning songs. All the children were lined up in classes and singing songs under the leadership of the deputy head, who lead their praises to the Lord, all in Gospel style. There were 820 children all singing in harmony, at the top of their voices, and it was glorious to listen to. When I sing small birds fall dead out of the sky, this was uplifting and magical.
Mrs Simiso Maphalala, the Head of Bhekephe, warmly welcomed us to her school after the students had been sent to class. There were introductions all round, selfies taken by the teachers with us all and then a group picture as well.
Dividing into smaller groups we went around the school stepping briefly into classrooms, seeing the kitchen and learning about the curriculum as well as the aims and goals of the school. Each school has an agricultural section and we saw the area that some of the grades grew vegetables and also the place where they did home economics, everyone learnt how to cook and sew at this school.
At 10.00 there was a break and two representatives went to the kitchen to get food for their class, returning with two buckets, one with pap, which is maize meal flour made into a sort of porridge, and the other had beans and meat in. The students divided the food amongst themselves before a short break and back to lessons.
I will never forget one of my visits to a classroom. Five of us went into an English class. As I went in first I introduced myself. The teacher asked me to say a few more words about myself so that the students could hear an English person speak English, so I thought I would oblige. I said who I was, how many times I have been to eSwatini, that I had a younger brother who had also been to eSwatini, liked tennis, lived in a flat, my favourite food was fish, that it took 11 hours in a plane to get here, that sort of thing.
I then asked them if they had any questions for me. One boy’s arms shot up and so I smiled at him to go ahead and he asked,
“How do you build a rocket?”
Well, I had asked for any questions I suppose, I hadn’t been specific at all. I have no idea how to build a rocket, and the others laughed and let me flounder as I valiantly soldiered on and tried to explain how I thought a rocket should be built. I had no help at all from the others and the teacher was giggling in the corner.
Maybe he will really learn how to build one in future years, who knows?
He seemed happy with my rambling answer.