Top 20 Safari Photos

With just over four weeks left in sunny South Africa, we are beginning to face facts. Our days on safari are (likely) over. At least for a while.

But, we still have the memories … and the photos. Hundreds of them.

I narrowed down my favorite safari shots to the 20 photos below. Now, we need to pick the best one(s).

Which one is your favorite? Which one says safari to you? VOTE NOW!

Check out the slideshow, then choose your favorite in the poll below. Larger images are available by clicking the thumbnails at the bottom. Thanks!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sawubona and Kunjani: Welcome to the Magic Kingdom…of Swaziland

“Which African country are you visiting this weekend?”

An absurd question, it would seem, though one I’m asked regularly. It’s become a bit of a Friday ritual at the Centre. Jenny gets similar treatment in her department. Is that really our reputation?

Well, with trips to Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe (sort of), Ethiopia and Djibouti under our belts, I suppose we’ve become a bit notorious.

Nevertheless, faced with a dwindling number of weekends remaining, we’ve been motivated to squeeze in as much travel as possible. There’s still a lot on our bucket list: Namibia, Tanzania (can you climb Kilimanjaro in a weekend?), Mauritius, Mozambique, Garden Route, Lesotho … Where to go?

How about a small, landlocked kingdom known mostly for big rocks, witch doctors, polygamy and one of the world’s last absolute and most criticized monarchs? How about Swaziland?

Even better, why not make it a group outing?

Along for the 350km (217 mi.) road trip was fellow American and Fulbrighter, Ryan (sheRyan), and South African, Micah. Thanks to the scenery, the conversation and a lunch stop at a place called Wimpy in a town called Carolina (where Jenny proceeded to be “that girl” by ordering her fries “extra done, almost brown”), the drive was a cinch. Before we knew it, we were in the capital city, Mbabane, checking into our guesthouse, Ematjeni.

The view from our most excellent guesthouse in Mbabane: Ematjeni (“The Place of Rocks”)

Except, that’s not entirely true. First, there was the whole issue of the border crossing. In Oshoek, on the South African side, we parked the car and went inside the border post to obtain departure stamps. The process didn’t take long, but as we each checked our passports, proud of another entry, we noticed that the immigration officer’s stamp was dated not for the current day, May 11, but for March 11. Somehow, instead of 2012-5-11, we all had 2012-3-11. As if we had left South Africa two months ago.

Should we say something? Is it better to risk the awkwardness of a doomed-from-the-start customer service encounter on this side, or a denial of entry on the other?

Resistance is futile. Press Your Luck. Back to the car! On to Swaziland!

Welcome to Swaziland. Where you must guess what to do next.

Sure enough, on the Swazi side at Ngwenya, the highly disengaged immigration officer, after placing perfunctory stamps in two of our passports, finally realized that we did not have a recent departure stamp from South Africa. Fortunately, we were able to explain that her counterpart simply used a bad stamp. She rolled her eyes, put ink to rubber to paper, and waved us through.

We chuckled our way to the car, buckled in, and drove 15 feet to the final checkpoint, where a woman sitting on a stool, not in uniform of any kind, flagged us down.

“Where is your receipt?” she asked.

“What, receipt, mama?” I replied, showing respect for her age and position, assuming it was an official one.

“Road tax,” she said. “You were supposed to get it inside. Park over there, go in and pay 50 rands.”

“Uh, OK,” I said, confused. There were no signs or indications inside that a road tax was part of the deal.

I drove off the asphalt roadway onto a short, dirt path and parked on a rocky incline. While the rest of the crew waited, I grabbed a R100 bill and went back into the border post. There was a counter window with a small sign that read “ROAD TAX” to my left, so I hurried over to stand in the queue. Of course, it turned out that the people in the queue were trying to pay for something else, a baggage fee, so the ROAD TAX lady told them to move on. Suddenly, I was at the window.

I slid the R100 bill under the plexiglass. The woman behind the counter just looked at me. “For road tax,” I confirmed, as if she hadn’t just made it perfectly clear that road tax collection was her only job.

“Fifty or a hundred?” she asked.

My instructions were to pay R50, which is what I planned to do, but I found it odd that she would offer a choice. Wouldn’t most people choose the smaller amount? Wait, did she think I was driving a tractor-trailer? Do I have that look? Was the Official Deodorant of the Springboks failing me?

“Mmmm, fifty,” I said, confidently. She asked for the vehicle registration number, which I provided, then she provided the all-important receipt, and we were off.

Then, before long, we were at the guesthouse, enjoying a view of the mountains while sipping tea and eating chocolate cake with Nutella frosting. Swazi sweetness.

Later that night, we met up with our chomies Anna and Nellie, more smartypants Fulbrighters, for dinner at the pride of Mbabane: Malandela’s. Oh, and every other expat in Swaziland seemed to have the same idea. Did we avoid the 15-top table of Americans seated out on the patio? We can neither confirm nor deny.

The next day was meant to be an inspiring hike to the top of Sibebe Rock, a 3 billion-year-old granite dome that Lonely Planet ranks as the #2 thing to do in Mbabane. Most of the other things seem to involve eating. And, as it happens, most of the things we actually did that day involved eating, as well. Instead of hiking, we went … shopping.

Anna chasing a peacock at Ngwenya Village

Micah and I tried to retain our Dude Factor while the others wandered in and out of the shops at Ngwenya Village. After visits to and purchases at stores like Quazi Design and Gone Rural, we regrouped and bought chocolates. Our review: Amarula truffles, yes; super spicy chili sauce chocolate balls, no. (My fingers are getting heartburn just typing the words.)

Then, the day became completely African. Or, at least completely eSwatini.

First, we drove to the Finnish Embassy, not to ask them why their names have so many vowels, but to peruse the art gallery and gift shop within. Then, we went back to Malandela’s, or more precisely to the flagship Gone Rural store, adjacent to Malandela’s. Finally, and this is one of those things you have to see to believe, we went to dinner at a restaurant inside the Italian Consulate.

Yes, Casa Mia and the official representation of the government of Italy share the same address. At the consulate’s security gate, if you just tell the guard you’re coming for dinner, he will let you right in. We tried it. It worked.

The Consul General himself was our sommelier. His ex-wife was our waitress. Their homemade tagliatelle was amazing.

Casa Mia, or, more accurately, The Italian Consul’s House

While carbo-loading at Casa Mia, we decided that the next morning, Sunday, would be better for a hike. With a long drive ahead, though, we opted not for the famous Sibebe, but a more relaxed trek around the mountains behind Brackenhill Lodge.

Hiking Brackenhill

Surveying Mbabane

We made it! (Actually, we’re not even close…)

Then, faster than you could say, “Is that guy watching us pick ripe guavas from his orchard?” it was time to say goodbye to Swaziland, without so much as an audience with the king.

Next time, Mswati. Next time.

“Yes, you can check the boot” and other things I never used to say

It started early. Our first visitors, my mom and my Mike, commented that our vernacular and inflection was changing. We were adapting to life in South Africa. It was survival.

It was October.

Now, after nearly 11 months living, working and playing in Pretoria, it’s like we speak a whole new language. Just ask Jenny what human-like noise hyenas make.

Every once in a while, we’ll catch ourselves speaking full-on South African, sometimes for good reason (like when naïvely hoping for a smooth customer service transaction), and sometimes not (like when it’s just the two of us in the kitchen). These moments inspired me to make a little list of things I never used to say:

  • Howzit? – One of the first pick-ups upon arrival in SA. It will undoubtedly take me another year to stop saying it. Apologies in advance, Chicago.
  • Izzit? – I do love this one. I’ll most likely keep this one under wraps in the US, except as a private joke. (I’m looking at you, Anna Alcaro.) In case it’s not clear, this phrase is a version of “is it?” but South Africans use it as an interrogative even when the words is and it do not apply to the context. (Example: “We drove to Swaziland this weekend.” “Izzit?”)
  • I’ll come fetch you just now. – OK, there are so many things wrong about this phrase. First, only southerners use fetch, and my four years in Kentucky don’t qualify me. More importantly, though, is the just now part. I know what “just now” means in Africa Time (anywhere between five minutes and five hours) and I still use it. I must stop.
  • Let’s keep an eye on it, hey? – I honestly can’t remember which of us used this one first, but I know Jenny has said it, too. The whole idea of tacking on a “hey?” is unusual … a bit Canadian.
  • It’s hot today, neh? – This is the ebony to hey’s ivory. White people say, “hey?” and black people say, “ne?” Adjust accordingly.
  • Do you stay this side? – I’ve said this a few times, and what I’m asking is where a person lives. This wording is interesting to me because it’s another one that can show differences in language use by different races. I’ve often had black friends or colleagues in the U.S. ask me where I stay. I feel like the use of stay is primarily along racial lines here, as well, but I know it’s a term used by South Africans in general. Same goes for “this side.” Nonverbal gestures are necessary to indicate “sides.”
  • … and what, what, what … – A multi-purpose tool. It can mean “and whatever.” It can mean “and so on.” It can mean “and whatchamacallit.” It can mean “blah, blah, blah.” It can mean “I forgot what I was going to say.” I’m just starting to use this one more, consciously or not, so it might be with me for a while.

The above are the more common, stylistic speech modifications that have crept into our lives. But, simply by virtue of where we live and where I work (most of the time), there are a host of other sentences I’ve uttered this year that I never could have imagined. For example:

  • We had a delegation from South Sudan in the office today. – Working at the Centre for Human Rights provides opportunities to meet people from countries all over the world, including the world’s newest country. Very cool.
  • So, let’s geo-target specific users in Kenya, Tanzania, Mali and Senegal. – Creating Facebook ads may never be the same.
  • The crazy thing was, we had to think about what would happen if the former president died on South African soil. – I can’t even begin to explain…
  • Sorry, can’t play basketball today. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is in town. – I know I’ll never say that again … basketball should always come first.
  • It’s in Tembisa. – I’ve said this many times. It comes up when people learn that I’ve been involved in some projects in the Ivory Park township. People have heard of Ivory Park, but often don’t know where it is, even those from Pretoria or Joburg. It’s in Tembisa.
  • Did you see that guy at the robot with a holographic eagle poster in one hand and a bunch of USB drives in the other? – Variations of this sentence are produced weekly, at minimum. There’s always somethin’ crazy at the traffic lights.
  • Full tank 93, windscreen, and 2 bars in the tyres, please. Oil and water are sharp. – So many things, but it’s just a routine stop at the gas station (aka “garage”). Here it is, translated to American: “Fill ‘er up! 93-octane unleaded. Can you please wash the windshield and fill the tires to 29 psi? The engine oil and windshield wiper fluid are fine.”
  • Yes, you can check the boot. – A daily mantra. Every morning we go to work, and every afternoon the guards at the main campus ask to look inside the trunk of our car (the “boot”) to make sure we’ve not stolen a computer or what, what, what. Like robots (actual robots, not stoplight robots), we say, “Yes, you can check the boot.”

And there you have it. I’m sure there are more as we likely don’t recognize all the changes in our speech patterns. Either they’ll be with us for a while once we move back, or they’ll be washed down with the first swig of Starbucks.

Let’s keep an eye on it, hey?