Eswatini? Where on earth is that? Well, I’m so glad you asked! Eswatini is a country in the southern part of Africa, and until last year, it was called Swaziland. However, on April 19, 2018, in honor of the country’s fiftieth anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom, King Mswati III changed its name from Swaziland, which has colonial connotations, to Eswatini.
I actually read two books for Eswatini. When I first started looking for books to read for this blog, I was aware of only one author from that country whose works had been published in English – Sarah Mkhonza. Her memoir, Weeding the Flowerbeds, was the book Ann Morgan, who was the inspiration for this project, had chosen to read for her blog, “A Year of Reading the World.” I’m trying to read novels, to the extent possible, so I was happy to discover that Mkhonza had also written a young adult novel titled Pains of a Maid. It tells the story of a young black woman named Thembani who falls in love with the son of the wealthy white couple on whose farm she works. The story was set in apartheid-era South Africa at a time when the Immorality Act forbade sexual relations between people of different races.
Judging from all the four- and five-star reviews Pains of a Maid has received on Goodreads, I am clearly not the target audience for this book. I found it to be simplistic, and the way the plot progressed was pretty far-fetched. So after I finished reading it, I went online to see if I could find any other novel written by an author from Eswatini. I hit the jackpot.
If there’s one type of book I love to read, it’s a good mystery, and that’s what I found when I discovered the Detective Emmanuel Cooper series by Malla Nunn. I decided to read the first book in the series, A Beautiful Place to Die, which is also set in apartheid-era South Africa.
Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is sent from Johannesburg to investigate the murder of a white police captain, who was shot once in the head and once in the spine, then his body was dragged into the river separating South Africa from Mozambique. Cooper has to deal with anger and belligerence from the dead captain’s sons, fear and distrust from the community’s black and mixed-race residents, and a power grab by the National Party’s Security Branch, who is determined to make the murder appear to have been orchestrated by communists. “The Security Branch and the National Party machine wanted a respected white policeman struck down in the line of duty. They didn’t want complications to that story. Under the new race laws, everything was black or white. Gray had ceased to exist.”
The truth of the matter is not so clear-cut, however. Cooper discovers that the dead captain had many secrets he kept carefully hidden from his Afrikaner wife and sons, secrets that may have been the motive for his murder. Cooper has secrets of his own and carries scars, both physical and emotional, from past events in his life. The investigation into the captain’s death will test Cooper in ways that he hasn’t had to face before.
I’m happy to have discovered this series, and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.
[Note: After reading all the books in the Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper series, I continue to be a big fan of Malla Nunn‘s writing. For those who might want to read a book that is actually set in Eswatini, Nunn’s young-adult novel, When the Ground Is Hard, was published in 2019 and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for young-adult literature. Her next young-adult novel, Sugar Town Queens, will be published in August 2021.]
Since the plots for both of the books I read took place in South Africa, I didn’t find any food ideas for this blog post. I looked online, and found a dish called samp, which is a type of hominy. I adapted a recipe from the website of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison, Wisconsin. Their recipe used metric measurements, and a couple of ingredients that I don’t have here – samp, which is different from the canned hominy I’m used to, and sugar beans, which I assume are grown in Africa. I substituted canned hominy for the samp, and black-eyed peas for the sugar beans, and made a very tasty dish. Here is the recipe I ended up with:
7 cups water
1 25-oz. can of hominy, drained
1 cup dried black-eyed peas
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 tomato, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cups green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 small potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 butternut squash, chopped
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Soak black-eyed peas overnight in water to cover.
Rinse black-eyed peas and put them in a large pot with the seven cups of water and one teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for an hour and fifteen minutes.
Put the onion and tomato in a blender with a little water and purée them. Pour the mixture into the pot with the black-eyed peas, then add the hominy, carrots, potatoes, butternut squash, the remaining teaspoon of salt, and pepper. Simmer for twenty minutes, then add the green beans and shredded cabbage. Simmer for another twenty minutes. Serve hot.
The GlobalGiving.org website listed several projects for Swaziland. I read through them and decided the one to which I wanted to donate was one offering preschool to orphans and other vulnerable children. According to the project description, “HIV/AIDS has decimated the adult population and means that the children of today will bear more of the burden of building their country in the future. Global studies have highlighted the positive impact of quality preschool education, particularly for disadvantaged children. Less than 30% of children of a pre-primary age in the country attend preschool. The high cost of preschool education means it is not affordable for the many vulnerable families we support, who live below the poverty line.” By providing early childhood education to these vulnerable children, the project ensures that the children will “enter primary school on time and are ready to learn.” More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/educate-a-swazi-child/.
NEXT STOP: ETHIOPIA
(Originally published on March 1, 2019.)
Pam Giarrizzo is a retired attorney who loves traveling, reading, and giving. She isn’t particularly fond of cooking, but she nevertheless reads, cooks, and gives for her armchair travel blog, The Booktrekker. Pam and her husband Phil live in Northern California, but they travel to Colombia often to visit their California-born son, their Argentine daughter-in-law, and their Colombian grandson. You can explore the world with Pam by following her blog at The Booktrekker or on Facebook at The Booktrekker | Facebook.