Christmas in Swazi hardly felt like a Christmas at all with the heat. It felt like a fake Christmas in July celebration. But we tried our best to make it feel like Christmas at home. A week prior to Christmas we spent every evening in one of the boys’ homes to do a Christmas prayer with them, full of singing, prayer, art activities, and the Christmas story. It was humbling to see the older boys take it the most seriously, as we had prejudged them to be the homes that were hardest to work with. On Christmas Eve, we had a volunteer family dinner of chili and bread rolls, which originally sounded amazing…until it was 100 degrees in the house and I literally sat at the dinner table sweating out of every pore as I tried to feed my hungry stomach with a hot meal that the rest of my body hated. After dinner we went to mass, only to find out that we were told the wrong time and had all walked in a solid half hour late. Woops. Later on, we indulged ourselves with a cool dessert of ice cream pancakes.
On Christmas morning a few of us went to mass again, and made the full service this time. Then we played “santas” and delivered presents to the boys’ homes. Each boy received a plastic bag from the grocery store filled with a bar of soap, a wash cloth, toothpaste, a tooth brush, some sweets, and a set of donated clothes. A bit different from the nicely wrapped and boxed and stuffed presents I am used to getting/giving, but these boys accepted them so joyfully and graciously.
After Christmas, four of my housemates and I took a one week vacation to Cape Town. We managed to pay off a kombi driver to take us early in the morning to Johannesburg. That was an adventure in itself…what usually takes over an hour to drive took literally 20 minutes. This guy was flying. It was nice to have the comfy kombi to ourselves, but we were jostled in our seats so much I thought it was a roller coaster. We were going so fast that at one point a bird hit our windshield and fell—no doubt—dead. The five of us exchanged worried glances, like “did that just really happen?” and then we saw the driver’s face and the rearview mirror and he was laughing. Apparently, he wasn’t supposed to take us early because he would miss his actual shift, but when we offered money, he wasn’t about to turn it down; instead he took the money and thought by driving at that speed he’d make it back for part of his shift. Eventually, we reached Johannesburg safely and tried to book the train, but the only seats left were in the third class (which is what my Swazi friends warned me not to take). We had no choice, so we booked the 28 hour train, which definitely was not as unsafe and people had thought, but definitely long and uncomfortable and I would not do that ever again.
Once we finally got to Cape Town, we stayed at a backpackers and had a lovely time. It was a relaxed and much needed vacation away from the demands of daily life in Swazi. We hiked up Table Mountain (AND down!), which was really beautiful. I discovered that even SPF 50 plus SPF 30 put on an hour later didn’t help my skin as partway through the hike white bubbles started forming on my arm and I had to keep covered. We went sight-seeing in the city, and the best part was on New Year’s Eve: we took a sunset boat cruise, and it was INCREDIBLE! The sights were some of the most amazing I have seen in my life.