You’d think that when an entire country changes its name, that that would be big news, wouldn’t you? But we Americans are so self-obsessed that this event, which took place on April 19th, 2018, barely caused a blip on our radar. That was the day that King Mswati III officially changed the name of his country from the Kingdom of Swaziland to the Kingdom of Eswatini.
But let’s be honest. The majority of us couldn’t find this nation on a map, regardless of what it’s called. This little country is only slightly larger than Hawaii, and slightly smaller than New Jersey. It’s only 120 miles north to south and 81 miles east to west. It’s landlocked by South Africa and Mozambique, and it only has about 1.3 million people.
This absolute monarchy has a rich and fascinating culture, but sadly it also has an average life expectancy of 58 years, due in part to its high incidence of AIDS and tuberculosis. It also has a diverse geography, with everything from mountains with deep gorges to more typical African bush country. They produce everything from textiles to wood products to agriculture and mining, but it seems to get more than half of its GDP from an overly large and inefficient government sector, according to Wikipedia.
Eswatinis have a reputation for friendliness and peacefulness. Despite the poverty and health crisis, it sounds like it would be a delightful country to visit. Mostly you get around by car or minibus. I’d opt for the minibus myself, because they drive on the left, and are not known for their street signage.
I would love to visit Hlane Royal National Park with it’s amazing wildlife. I’d also like to visit Malolotja Falls. It would be fun to experience at least a part of the 8 week long Festival of the First Fruits, which begins in December, even though I’d chafe at having to wear a skirt, and am not wild about supporting the concept of polygamy. But I believe in respecting the culture in which I find myself.
But to be honest, you can cover most of the country in a one day visit, even if you stop to take the time to experience its delicious food. Here’s a fun fact: this country has one of the highest numbers of people struck by lightning per capita in the world. So keep an eye on the sky as you race from one end of this country to the other.
Two of the beautiful princesses of Eswatini.
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