On Schoch Street in Mbabane, the de facto capital of Eswatini, a schoolgirl walks home. She is walking in a westerly direction so I know that it is the afternoon or early evening. Eswatini used to be known as Swaziland but in 2018 King Mswati III decided to change the name - partly to mark fifty years of independence from Britain and also because the old name sounded too much like Switzerland! Eswatini simply means "Land of the Swazis" - by far the little country's largest ethnic group.
Located in south eastern Africa, Eswatini has a population of 1,236,000. Life expectancy is low at just 58 years and this is partly because the country continues to suffer an HIV/AIDS epidemic with 28% of the population being HIV positive. The country's median age is 22 years compared with say Japan where the median age is 49 years.
Above - the amusingly named End Street is in the spacious low rise suburbs of Mbabane. Looking around the city via Google Streetview you do not see obvious signs of dire poverty. On the surface at least, it seems like a reasonably prosperous place where citizens take pride in their homes and surroundings.
This is the flag of Eswatini. It was designed by King Sobhuza II and has been the country's flag since full independence was achieved in 1968. The spears and shield remind the Swazi people of their military history. The hide shield is black and white to suggest that black and white people can live in harmony together.
Though I have never been to Eswatini, back in 1973 an old school friend flew out there for a year to teach in a high school under the auspices of Voluntary Service Overseas. He had a great year and coincidentally in 1974 joined me at The University of Stirling where he also pursued the joint honours course in English Studies and Education.
His name was Andy Monkman and he always seemed like a happy, solid kind of bloke but a few years ago I was horrified to learn that he had killed himself. Try as I might I failed to unearth any details - like why, when and where. He is one person I wish I had stayed in touch with. It is possible that somebody else who knew Andy might stumble across this blogpost and be able to fill in some details. I would be most grateful.