This country is beautiful, clean, with a nice location. The topography is that of some mountainous areas along with much farmland. The infrastructure is great and the people are also very nice and friendly here. The weather here was great upon my arrival in the mid afternoon. I was able to enjoy some of the nice countryside by taking pictures during the entire time that I was here.
This country is very small in size. Though it is a little bigger than Kosovo, it has nearly ½ of the people that we do back home. Part of that is because the population hasn’t grown in awhile due to the debilitating AIDS epidemic and many adults now have a lower life expectancy. On the other hand, I have seen so much strength and determination in the eyes of people in the last few countries. They are committed to finding an end to this current struggle and have been some of the best people that I have met in my life.
After landing in the capital city, Mbabane, I find that it is quite small but refreshing, as it means that there are not enough people to run you over like they would in a bigger town. The people here also seem very relaxed and not stressed out at all. I guess they must have been practicing that lifestyle for a while since this place is known to have had residents living here as far back as 25,000 B.C.
I feel good about trying to find another bed and breakfast here because I see that the city seems very neat and clean, so I will have to worry a little less about our little mouse friends visiting me in the night.
Folks, it feels so good to be visiting this country. The main reason: Swaziland is one of the nations that have graciously recognized our independence so I will be speaking with the media and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to thank them for their swift action and the good things that they have done for us. Remember, part of our mission is to visit these countries too in order to thank them and not ignore the ones that have already recognized us. At least I get the sense that my mission work here will be fairly quick, easy and laid back since the people here are also relaxed. Being such a small nation, they will probably only have a few newspapers, but I do want to be sure to get a television interview as well, since nowadays that is the best way to communicate your message to people.
It’s Sunday night when I arrive, so I am able to check into the B & B, put my luggage down and go for a small walk to take pictures and familiarize myself with the surroundings. I spot a beautiful plaza area with a charming little shopping mall in the heart of town. Wouldn’t you know it though, that right this beautiful spot is where all of the taxis, mini-buses and other transportation run as well. They have an outdoor market in this same location, so you can imagine the type of chaos that this scenario may produce sometimes.
It also appears that city life here starts very early in the morning but also finishes very early in the evening. The people here often leave to go home earlier in the day to get to their home on the outskirts of town. The younger people here tell me that, though this is the capital of Swaziland, it is very different from the economic capital, Manzini, which is about a 30 minutes drive down the road. For one, Mbabane is fairly small, so you can reach everywhere within a 20 minute walk or so. Also, the young people report to me that, though this area is relaxed and lower stress than Manzini, they often get bored easily and don’t have the luxury of crazy and wide-ranging entertainment that places like a bigger city, Johannesburg would have. To me though, I prefer this environment instead as it is much more peaceful and you don’t have people running you over all of the time. After having a good food at our American chain restaurant KFC, it was time to go back to the B & B and get some rest before beginning tomorrow morning at full speed ahead. I am confident that things will go very smooth here for me as far as media goes.
Early Monday morning I am up and ironing my shirts, which I hand washed last night and hung to dry. This is one of the things that I will never miss in my lifetime after finishing our mission. I don’t like having to hand wash my clothes at all, but circumstances make you do everything in life. Another thing that I do not like at all in this portion of the mission is the money issue.
Here in Africa, the most important and most difficult thing for me to learn has been patience in all areas of the trip, as far as all of the logistics go. Since Morocco, I have been without reserve cash and my team has had to send me money via services like MoneyGram or Western Union, who rip you off and often charge double or triple what MoneyGram does at times. In more developed Western countries, a transaction like this would usually takes 3-5 minutes tops. However, here in Africa, the minimum amount of wait time is over an hour and it could be as high as four. I have encountered many problems when making one of these difficult transactions.
Often, the amount of money that I need transferred to me at times is more than $1000 USD since the expenses of landing fees, parking the plane, fuel, accommodations, etc. often total more than that. So, back in Gabon for example, I tried to make a transaction like this right there at the international airport, but they did not have $1000 USD in order to pay me. Other times in the past, the transaction system has been down due to electrical and/or Internet outages and unlike other places, most African nations aren’t even able to make the required copy of your passport that they need in order to complete the transaction (or the more ridiculous scenario where they don’t have any ink in their cartridge), so instead, you have to leave that place and travel miles away sometimes to get a copy made and then travel back to the company to complete the transaction. That is just the beginning my friends.
In places like Zambia, for example, you are limited to transactions under $1000USD, but by accident, you are sent 1000 Euros instead (around $1300USD). Well, you can’t complete the transaction because the amount equals more than your limit so you are forced to find another place to get your money sent to you. If you find another place aside from Western Union or MoneyGram, then they give you the countries local currency. My friends, you can just imagine James Berisha walking around with $1000USD worth of local cash. I have to carry it like a bag and since I already look suspicious (being white in mostly darker skinned cultures) I then start sweating (both from the heat and the stress of it) and the people start staring at me more. On top of this I’m then terrified of getting robbed or killed for that kind of money since most of local peoples live on less than $2 a day.
If you do take that risk and get it changed at a local exchange business, the first question that they ask you is if you have a local bank account. Can you imagine me opening a bank account in every country around the planet! To add some more frustration, places like this often limit you to only $500 USD worth of local cash, so then you have to either go buy USD on the black market or at the Burem De Change (Exchange Offices) which are hell to deal with folks and 90% of the time they don’t even have $1000USD worth to give you, so you end up having to go to three or four of them just to try and avoid the black market. I had to do this once in Caracas, Venezuela and ended up losing $200 USD as a result of dealing with those heartless people. In exchange for $100 in local currency I had to give them $200USD. But when I tried to use it, I was told by the cashier that it was fake money, that I was taken for a ride and that I could end up going to jail for being found with fake money in my wallet. Needless to say, the cashier then took my $100 worth of local currency, leaving me without my original $200 USD and broke again.
Over time I have learned that these banks or bureau de change locations are just decorations for their city. Just because you see one doesn’t always mean that they will provide a service to you, especially when you are dealing with the large amounts of money that I often need. And to add to that, don’t forget that each time you exchange money, you are charged a service fee and an exchange fee, which will vary depending on if you are switching it into local currency or into USD. So what may start out as an initial transfer to you in $1000USD might end up being only $600 in your pocket by the time you are done with all of this nonsense. I don’t even want to think about what would happen to someone if they ever needed to exchange larger amounts like $10,000 USD or $10,000 Euros.
And let’s not forget that a lot of these places will not provide services if you go even just one minute after 15:00pm unless you want to wait until the next business day. In some of the banks, you can’t even go past 14:30 pm because the queue is already so long and you will have the security guard telling you to come back tomorrow. Unless of course you want to start throwing scandals in there when being lighter skinned is already something that gets additional attention brought to the situation.
Try dealing with these things when you have a landing permit for the next country that expires at midnight and were up to an especially early start today in order to get this done because if you try to fly there tomorrow they will not let you since your original dates are set in stone. When that happens, you are stuck for another three days of your life because you then have to go and reapply for a permit with new dates on it before you are allowed to take off again.
Add to this chaos the fact that you have been held up at the airport for a number of reasons. One of which may be the fact that they only charge you and accept payment in the form of USD, which means that you don’t have the right currency after you have already spent so much time trying to arrange to have local cash. So back to town you go again trying to exchange the money back to USD, which then costs more astronimical fees. After you get back to the airport and are ready to pay the fees again, you have to do so in many different offices and sometimes someone may require you to pay a random fee by using their local currency again. So now you may have to go back to town and change some USD back to local currency, all of the time knowing that you have now changed the original USD into local currency once already and then back again to USD before this additional transaction that now needs to take place, remembering the whole time that each of these transaction has charged its own fees.
By the time you have run around the airport paying all of your fees (and/or going back into town to exchange some more money), you are leaving late and now have an eight-hour plane ride to fly in a single engine plane over jungles with lions and tigers under your feet and can do nothing about the fact that you know that this will only lead to unsafe flying after dark in order to arrive at a safe aiport on the ground, which will now charge you an extra $100-200USD in order to land because you need to use the required runway lights because it is after dark. On top of which you have flown all the way there in an airplane which was built in 1967 and that you’ve had to fly like the pilots did in the 1920’s and 1930’s because the primary navigation instruments stopped working about 15 countries ago and I haven’t had the the couple thousands of dollars that it would cost to install a new GPS.
My friends, I wish to higher powers that I was only exaggerating, but these things are true and I have had to deal with things like this on a daily basis because This is where a lot of our money goes and part of why our mission is broke all of the time. But I have no other choice because I can’t give up. I could keep going with this list for days and days, but try to explain it to someone sitting in the US or Kosovo or Switzerland what the heck James is talking about and their eyes will start going blank. By the way friends, I know that this is not part of the Swaziland description, but since I started talking about why I will not miss hand washing my clothes I thought I would let you all in on the other little secrets of my day to day frustrations because my sunburned, bald head was already starting to explode. I guess to accomplish a mission of this magnitude, one has to have the character of an elephant or a donkey because otherwise you might have a nervous breakdown or end up in a clinic with a bunch of mentally ill “bingo” friends of yours, though you are in perfect health otherwise.
When I am feeling stressed about all of these little things, I try to remind myself of why I started this mission in the first place. It is because of the atrocities that I saw in Kosova after losing my father. All of those people in the refugee camps that I saw and the trauma and destruction that I witnessed firsthand. I knew then that their stories needed to be told, which is why I wrote my first book Escape From Kosovo. But after that, I knew that it was only a matter of time until we gained our official independence. When we finally did, I was devastated to learn that world would still not legally recognize our country on a simple passport, instead reminding us that because not enough countries recognize our independence formally, the official country name on our passport and even some maps is still Serbia. It was then that I decided that I needed to use the skills that I have gained in my profession as a pilot in order to further our place in the world and share with others our request to be accepted finally as our own country.
I guess to accomplish a mission of this magnitude, one has to have the character of an elephant or a donkey because otherwise you might have a nervous breakdown or end up in a clinic with a bunch of mentally ill “bingo” friends of yours, though you are in perfect health otherwise.
Okay friends, I’m sorry about venting and enough with the problems. Let’s be an optimist and be positive in life. I guess that if I was not an optimistic person in my life today then I would still be back in Brestovc driving my tractor and raising cattle. The bright side of my mission is that I also get to visit countries like Swaziland who have recognized our independence and re-energize me to continue on.
Thanks to all of our media friends who were excellent. Mrs. Gcinangaye Tsabedze with Radio Swaziland organized an interview there within minutes of reaching their doors with Mr. Mbuso Tilman was awesome to work and whom I thank for his time. To the great team at the main newspaper, Times of Swaziland, thank you to Mr. Maqhawe Nxumalo and Mr. Mbongeni Mbingo who called our us “our Kosovo”. They both had been wanting to write an article about us since Swaziland recognized our independence last year. Finally, thank you to Mr. Oscar Mabusela at The Swazi Observer for his detailed interview about our nation of Kosovo.
Thank you my wonderful friends at the national television station, Swazi TV. They were all excellent and appreciative of learning that the people of Kosovo respect them very much. They even invited me for a live interview on their morning show, so thank you also to Mr. Oscar Mabusela, the boss man and news editor, for authorizing such an interview.
Thanks to Ms. Xolile P. Mkhonta, the personal assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was very charming and also very appreciative of our interview.
The next country is Mozambique and I would like to thank Arlindo at their embassy here in Swaziland for giving me a visa for his country with no complications at all and within ten minutes of entering their doors.
May higher powers bless this beautiful nation, I will miss it very much.