Mallory Primm
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Tuesday Night is Game Night

June 20, 2009 @ 11:20 AM | Permalink

It is Tuesday night in Swaziland and for me that means Game Night. In a country of less than a million people, many of whom live below the poverty line, most entertainment here is of the DIY variety. But being an ex-pat in the Kingdom of Swaziland is by no means boring and anyone who stays here for any length of time soon learns that Swaziland, like most Southern African nations, has a lot more going on than the money-extolling missionary television commercials would have you believe.

The social calendar of an ex-pat in this tiny Kingdom, snuggled in between north-east South Africa and Mozambique, is bustling. On Mondays and Wednesday there are yoga classes are the home studio of a hippie Norwegian couple. On Fridays there are quiet drinks at the fledgling restaurant, Café Lingo. Sundays are the Natural History Society’s hiking trips in the hills of Malolotje or Miliwane. And Tuesday night is Game Night at Veki and Dave’s.

Veki and Dave boast living in “the only log house in Swaziland.” Situated on a hillside near the Dalraich suburb of Swaziland’s capital Mbabane, getting to Game Night is no easy feat. From where I live in Ezulwini – the Valley of Heaven – I must head north towards the MR3 Highway. On this road that slashed through the belly of the verdant valley, speed limits drop suddenly from 100 to 40 kilometers an hour and cow crossings and monkey road kill are not uncommon. After merging onto the highway, an endeavor which is challenging given my American driving education devoid of traffic circles and left-hand driving, I begin the ascent to Mbabane.

Mbabane sits on top of the infamous Malagwan hill. The Malagwan is rumored to at one time have been the Guinness Book of World Records’ most dangerous road in the world, and with good reason. There are two lanes going up the Malagwan, and three types of drivers: First, there are the BMWs, Mercedes, and Landrovers, -- usually carrying an international organization’s insignia or official Swazi flags denoting government officials or royalty – which barrel up the hill at breakneck speeds, dangerously tailgating anyone who dares slow their pace. Second, there are the overloaded trucks, often carrying lumber, which inch up the hill, struggling against gravity and gear boxes. Third, there are the ubiquitous Kombies, the loosely organized public transport system, which the US Embassy warns “fail to meet minimal safety standards … and travel at excessive speeds;” the Embassy fails to mention that these vehicles also swerve and stop without warning and often create lanes where none exist.

After surviving the highway and navigating through Mbabane’s small city center, I head into the suburbs and final turn up the giant hill to Veki and Dave’s house, burning up the clutch and bouncing over potholes. Despite the harrowing journey to get to Game Night, people have been making the Tuesday night trek for more than 4 years. Veki and Dave started game night one Tuesday some friends were visiting. The power had gone out, so Dave lit some candles, and found an old Monopoly board. Little did the corrupt electrical monopoly know that their mismanagement of the electrical supply had led to the creation of a Mbabane tradition that has survived longer than any single Minister of Energy.

The group of players on any given Game Night is a rotation of anyone who happens to be in the country mixed, with some old regulars. I greet everyone in turn, each according to his own. Pete I kiss once on the lips. I’m not sure if this is simply because he is old and can get away with it, or because he is from the Netherlands, but my American naivety precedes me and I pucker up. The Frenchman gives two kisses, the Greek and Dutch three. My Peruvian friend gives a warm hug and the Serbians are too busy organizing chocolate cake to pay any attention. The Mozambiquen architect greets me with a hand shake, and our Zimbabwean host is eager to show off the new fountain he is sculpting for the King’s 41st birthday. We open some bottles of wine, usually grown in nearby Stellenbosch in South Africa, and decide on a game. Today we are playing Actionary, my personal favorite, using a Pictionary board to play charades.

We organize into teams, making sure that at least one person on each team speaks English well, as the Actionary clues are all in English. We sit on white wooden furniture made by Dave from scrapes of wood or on brightly colored pillows on the floor. I squish in between the French volunteer working for the World Food Program and the wife of the Finnish musician who has come to Swaziland to jam with local bands for two years. And then the game begins. Competition is rife and Veki shriks “Time!” at the top of her lungs every minute and thirty seconds.

“Addicts,” my teammate calls to the chain-smokes on the porch. “Get in here we need some help!”

It’s my turn to act. My clue is Switzerland. I try to act out mountains by forming a triangle with my hands above my head.

“Chinese rice worker!”


I act out Lederhosen by holding onto imaginary suspenders and dancing a jig.

“Leprocon,” yells the Irishman, ironically.

“Russian?” guess the Serbians

I try to act out blowing into a fog horn a la the Ricola commercials but all I get is, “Bong?” “Michael Phelps?” and then Veki shrieks “Time!”

It always amazes me which parts of American news reach the outside world, especially in this tiny Kingdom at the bottom of Africa. The local Times of Swaziland usually reports detailed headlines about Chris Brown and Rhianna’s domestic disturbances, and will show evidence that a British man captured a ghost on film, but anything about economic stimulus packages take the back seat to headlines such as “King’s Lion Sold By Mistake” and “Man Wants to Divorce Horney Wife.”

It’s getting late and the game comes to an end. My team has lost, sadly. I look around for the keys to my Fiat as the rest of the guests gather on the porch for the proverbial “last cigarette.” When I get to my car I find it’s not working, which has become almost as regular as Game Night itself. Last Tuesday I ruined the clutch runner and this week it looks like an electrical problem. I don’t know anything about cars – a severe handicap given the state of many of Swaziland’s roads – and everyone else is either too tired or too drunk to be bothered with the banalities of a Fiat’s sub-standard design. I decide it would be best to simply leave the car until morning and ride back to my house in Ezulwini with Pete. This way I can avoid the hazards of the Malagwan, which this time must be faced in the blackness known only to those places on Earth which are familiar with the darkness of an unreliable electrical supply. I relax as we head down the highway and Pete regales me with stories of his adventures hitch-hiking to Tehran and driving from Cape Town to Holland with his two young children. Before I know it we’re at the bottom of my driveway and I say good-bye to Pete.

“See you next Tuesday,” he calls with a wave out the window.


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A good lesson for us all

Nicolle OConnor on Country Western and other Music in Swaziland 2009-06-11

just wondering if you have published any results?

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