Six Must-Dos in Marvelous Mbabane

Get to know the locals. The people in Swaziland have a well-earned reputation for being friendly and helpful. So expect to hear “Hello Momma” and “Hi Sister” as you saunter down the street. Greet people with sowbona – for hello – and yabo – as the reply. It may not be conversational Swazi, but at least it is an indication that you aren’t totally-tourist.

Swazis take, rather than tell. When I asked Skhumbuzo Mahlambi, the clerk in the post office, where I could buy a post card, he locked his cash box and walked me half way across the plaza. As we left his co-workers didn’t even look up. Enroute he did a detour so I would know where to find a shop that specialized in local arts and crafts. As we meandered along I had to suppress a smile. Civil servants in western countries might be disciplined and/or fired for abandoning their work-stations. Guides were also dispatched to show me where to find a taxi, the post office and an internet café.

Buy an emayadi at Mr. Cheap Fabric Centre. Head for Gwamile Street, Shop Number 3 for a good selection of cotton emayadi prints. These two metre pieces of cotton fabric have a pattern that screams “Swazi” at sixty paces. The first time I saw a man wearing the traditional cloth I asked where I could buy a wrapper. Even though he was shopping for a uniform for his wife, he walked to the shop with me. It was nip-and-tuck, but I managed – barely – to convince the clerks that I really did prefer the emayadi with a traditional pattern, rather than the one with a photo of the King of Swaziland.

Have a beer at the Moonlight Bar. Ask for a local brew at this pub in the Swazi Plaza and JJ will tell you about how Sibebe is named after a mountain not too far from Mbabane. This local-only venue has ambience and a positive attitude. The clientele includes teachers, drug dealers, working girls, guys from the construction site and farmers. Perch on any available bar stool and sownona the person next to you.

Check out what is on offer at Ligomba Lemasusagi. The official address is Shop Number 4, Edgar’s Building, Swazi Plaza. But if you can’t find it, don’t worry – just ask someone and chances are you will be delivered to the front door. If you aren’t sure what to get, ask Fiso – who runs the place – to make some suggestions. This could well be your one-stop souvenir shopping.

Hang out in Freedom Square. Pull up a piece of park bench at the corner of Somhlolo and Gwamile. This is where the real Swazi people hang out. Friends visiting; guys swigging out of a plastic-bag covered bottles; people reading newspapers; mothers breast-feeding. The shade of one of the many big trees is an ideal place to wile away an hour or so of surreptitious people watching.

Hop on a combie and ride like a local. These 14-seater vans ply their trade along various routes. The bus rank is smack-dab in the middle of town is a must-do. Looking down it is literally a sea of white rooftops of the combies. How they manipulate in and out is truly an art form. The buses, the people, the street traders, the fruit sellers all add up to total chaos. The area has a vibrating rhythm all its own and people dance to it.

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