Thud. I live in Africa.

The  revelation hit me as I was white-knuckle driving on the M3 highway outside of Mbabane, Swaziland. It was my first day of driving on the left hand side of the road – and I had already gotten lost twice. Part of the M3, called the ‘Malagwane’, was once in the Guinness Book of World Records for the ‘Deadliest Highway’. It’s been twinned since then, but imagine the Autobahn, but with fewer rules.

What. Have. I. Done.

Then Meryl Streep’s voice came into my head: “I had a farm in Africa….”

HOOOOOOONK!!! The blare of a horn cut my daydream short – apparently I spent too long in the passing lane. Where I come from we actually wait until the entire vehicle is behind us before cutting back into the driving lane. I don’t speak Siswati, but I’m fairly sure the guy was wishing me a safe journey.

I can't get much further from my Edmonton without starting to get closer!
I can’t get much further from my Edmonton home without starting to get closer!

The circumference of the earth is 40,075 km. The distance between Edmonton, Canada and Mbabane, Swaziland is 15,805 km. I’m no math expert, but it seems to me that I can’t get much further from home without getting closer to home. Oh, and here they call it ‘maths’.

How can it be possible to go half-way around the earth and still feel at home? Nothing is the same! Traffic lights are called ‘robots’, garbage cans are ‘dustbins’, chips are ‘crisps’ and fries are ‘chips’. Product packaging, instead of English and French, is translated to Afrikaans and sometimes a Sanskrit language I’ve never seen before.

Everywhere I look, something is different. Even in the mirror.  Those two stress-lines between my eyes were going away, and sometimes I catch myself smiling – just because. I live in Africa.

Pull up to a roadside stand, and beautiful, fresh fruit is yours to choose!

I’m soaking in the variety like a sponge in water.  Most of all, I’m loving the simplicity of this life. I have four pairs of socks, four t-shirts and three pairs of jeans. I do two loads of laundry every week, and I hang it all out to dry in the sun. Sometimes I sit outside my back door and watch the light change on the mountains across the valley. I fall asleep to the sound of doves and crickets, and I wake to the voices of the Challenge Ministries Life Skills Bible School students who live in the building beside me. I don’t have a television and the only radio station I can pick up is in Siswati – I’m getting pretty good at some of the songs but I have no idea what I’m saying!

Sure, there are inconveniences. Wifi is rare, ice cream is expensive, and the only fast food joint is KFC. But fresh roasted corn-on-the-cob  (okay, here it’s maize) is only E6 (about 60 cents CAD) and when you pull up to the open fire by the roadside, the guy will bring it right to your car. (It’s delicious – although I wonder why the kernels don’t pop!) They’ll do the same with grilled chicken! Picking up a few things on the way home means stopping at a fruit stand to buy avocados, mangoes, bananas – all fresh and at a cost of about E1 each (yep – that’s about 10 cents CAD).

“I live on a farm in Africa”…..and I have no idea what’s in store for me this year. I do know that I already love some of the people I’ve met, and I’ve been welcomed to a church that is committed to teaching and to living out a passionate faith like I’ve never seen before.  And I know that when someone says “You’re already just like a Swazi”, I just about burst with happiness.

There’s going; then there’s leaving

When the opportunity arose to spend a year in Swaziland, Africa, I didn’t think twice. After working on a fundraising project for a Swazi charity in 2013 and visiting the country three times, I was already enamoured with the nation and the culture. I knew I would be joining a remarkable team working to raise up a generation of leaders in one of the world’s poorest countries. The water is clean, the environment safe, and generally people speak English. It was a no-brainer. I was going.

Then came the leaving. Sorting through my entire house deciding what to sell, what to give away and what to store; putting useless tchotchkes into storage containers; opening up boxes that had been gathering dust since I moved in seven years ago – it was more an unending parade of decisions. I mean, what do you do with the stuff in your junk drawer?

Do you really want to open up a box in a year and find a collection of stray keys, paperclips and half-used rolls of tape?

The packing was interrupted only by the details: arranging health insurance, advising the bank, the post office and Revenue Canada, advertising my home for rent, getting an international drivers license and selling my car – the first time without a vehicle in over 25 years – and liquidating a few things online to raise extra cash. Every night I fell into bed exhausted only to dream that I’d finished packing that closet in the spare bedroom and waking up to find it still packed with random stuff. All of this took on a frenetic pace with less than four weeks passing between the day I booked my ticket and the day I was on the flight.

It came right down to the wire finding a temporary home for my dog Maggie! I even informed the rescue that I had to bring her back – crying the whole time! Thankfully my pets are with dear friends who are loving them in my absence!

To someone who has been accused of ‘fierce independence’, asking for help was like exercising a muscle that has been atrophied with unused. But seeing friends, with busy lives of their own, set aside entire days to haul boxes to donation centres and wipe down cupboards felt like love in action. When I stared into the Tupperware drawer and failed to find a single matching lid and bowl, it seemed more serious than deciding whether or not to give up a kidney. “Take it all,” came my high squeaky voice, and into a box for charity it went; no questions asked. On the occasion that I let myself consider all of the hours that others had spent working to get me ready, I kind of felt like the Grinch when he realizes that the true meaning of Christmas is in the people and not in the gifts. (Narrator: And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!)

Putting my little house up for rent was tougher than I thought!

The final ten days were a blur. Goodbye lunches, extra-long hugs and, from time to time, silences when my heart said “I love you’s” through misty eyes. No “thank you” seemed enough, and “I’ll miss you” was impossible.
Then there were my pets. A 16-year-old curmudgeon of a cat, and a 2-year-old German Shepherd/Doberman cross. It felt like asking someone to take on my kids, and to love them the way that I did. Would they be okay with Maggie (canine kid) stealing from the laundry basket to bury socks in her crate? And woe to the one who tried to pet The PussyCat without her permission! But once again, friends stepped up to take on the critters and their quirks. I left it as long as I could before they went to their foster homes – maybe sending Maggie out to the ranch with her Halloween costume wasn’t the best idea. I don’t think either of us will live that down.

I was pretty much a wreck by the time I got on the plane; not at all convinced that my 110lbs of luggage was what I would need for a year in a climate that includes intense heat and cool rains, and pretty certain every piece of clothing I brought was unsuitable. As I began 30-hours of travel I was officially of ‘no fixed address’; suspended between ‘where I came from’ and ‘where I was going’. Somewhere over Nairobi, helped along by a cheesy romance movie, my heart broke wide open and I wept silently in row 48 of a dark aircraft at 38,000 ft.

Without a doubt, I know that this year in Africa is God’s will for my life, and of course adventures of this nature redefine ‘comfort zone’ and bring opportunities for personal transformation. The big surprise to me was that those things would begin well before I arrived in Swaziland.