I love Swaziland, I do. But, every so often, I have to get out. A trip to the closest big town on the other side of the border once every 6 weeks does the trick. This time I had company on my trip to Nelspruit – a friend who was able to provide not just good conversation, but a car with diplomat plates. When police ask if they can look in the boot she arches her eyebrows and says, “Well you can, BUT this IS a diplomatic vehicle”. So far no one’s touched that boot.
These little trips to the metropolis of Mpumalanga serve to confirm that, in the deepest reaches of my soul, I remain South African. They serve to confirm the same for my friend – except, in her case, she’s American. We share a certain deep-seated need, one I don’t often fess up to – to shop in malls. You can take the girl out of the mall, but you can’t take the mall out of the girl!
Nelspruit has a brand, spanking new one. It gleams, and, best of all, it flows. One of Swaziland’s little problems is that whoever designed its parking lots and shops had never heard of flow. Traffic – both humans and cars – gets snarled up terribly and sometimes you think you’ll spend forever trying to exit the dark underground parking lot of Mbabane’s biggest shopping complex. At the Nelspruit mall we were able to dejeune on a terrace (ok, it did open onto the parking lot) and sip our Cafe Lattes in the sunshine.
I don’t actually like Nelspruit. It remains a very unreconstructed place. While waiting in the orthodontist’s rooms (my ostensible reason for visiting the town in the first place), I was forced to read Huis Genoot – a magazine (in case you aren’t familiar with it) that is the Afrikaans equivalent of People Magazine only with recipes and advise for housewives thrown in. We had to read it at school in order to practice the language. So, for my entire high school career I read stories about the boy who was born with a dreadful ageing condition and looked 90 at the age of 6, or the obese boy from the farm who had to run around carrying a sheep to lose weight. These things stay with you.
At one level Huis Genoot was exactly the same as it had been then – the level of taste when featuring ideas for decorating the home is enough to make you squirm, there are still articles about how to keep your man and a very disturbing spread about the wedding of an obviously famous singer – disturbing because he seemed obviously gay in his shiny, floral embroidered suit (he was marrying a woman) and was quoted saying things like “she looks like a vision in white lace, it is so romantic I feel like I am dreaming.” However, at another level Huis Genoot had changed – semantically at least. Suddenly Afrikaans has words like “eish” inserted into it throughout. When did that happen?
No, it is just not healthy watching South Africa through this prism. My next visit will have to be to a real metropolis like Johannesburg. Once the lattes are drunk, once the Woolies shopping is stuffed into the not-to-be-opened boot, I am always very happy to be heading back through the spectacular mountains, towards misty Swaziland.