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"Topishauppa" - SiSwati for More! By Dr. Mike Colson

This is not an observation of great note. Nor will it provide anyone with the wherewithal to withstand the pressures of your lives while engaged in combat, contractor, and other arduous duties worldwide. It is, though, I think humorous.

We were standing in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Dar E Salaam, Tanzania. I was present as the United States USAID representative for manpower. With me was the irrepressible Ken Magagula, the Kingdom of Swaziland’s Ministry of Labor chief and erstwhile party animal. We were waiting for the desk staff to put through a phone call to the Deputy Minister for Labor so that we could provide an update with regard to our mission in Tanzania and Kenya the week previous. It was a desperate call.

The week prior I was ensconced in the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi after meeting with several highly placed Kenyan government representatives…alone. Ken had wandered off to see the sights about fifteen minutes after our arrival and about three hours after being grilled on entry to Kenya by immigration officials. Ken needed to ‘shake off the rust’ after the ordeal and I didn’t blame him one bit. It seems the Kenyan’s were perfectly happy to accept me into their country, traveling on a Kingdom of Swaziland passport, white, and on a mission for the U.S. government. What they had a problem with was Ken Magagula doing the same thing while black.

My one or two questions, one of which was whether I had had a good flight to Kenya, was followed by a flourish of hand and a entry stamp in my passport. For Ken, it started with why Swaziland was determined to suckle on the breast of South Africa economically and wouldn’t it be better if they led counter-insurgency against the apartheid state with Ken at the helm. I didn’t see that I had anything to contribute to Ken’s answers, so I retired to the baggage claim area and waited…for three hours. Evidently, Ken was not skilled in the art of political obfuscation. I noted as I darted away that he seemed determined to take on the Kenyans. I was reminded of this stubbornness as his bag circled the baggage carousel and was finally shifted into a pile ‘for the unclaimed’ next to toilet. Of course, the toilet was ‘under repair’ as was Ken.

This was why Ken needed to get out of the hotel in Kenya so quick and, I am assuming, why he failed to appear for three days. It would be better for my own reputation if I explained that I had called the police after day one and spent a fortune in taxi fares running up and down Nairobi streets. All that was out of the question in the residential sprawl where Ken was last seen ambling into. I attend all our meetings, though, and when Ken finally arrived at the hotel lobby with one shoe, a shirt not his own, and in his underwear, you might say it caused a stir. Evidently the delay was caused by forgetting the name of the hotel we had booked into ...and Campari. Enough said.

So, why the lobby of the Hilton in Dar E Salaam awaiting the phone connect to the Deputy Minister? One word…topishauppa. We were in a country were banks were also ‘under repair’, credit cards were not accepted, and cash was king. Now I digress to tell you that upon entrance to Tanzania we were compelled to convert one hundred U.S. dollars into local Tanzanian shillings, which is physically impossible to carry. Bricks of shilling notes bound by wire filled three large paper bags. During the conversion ordeal I was admonished no less than eleven time to never break the wire. And so we arrived in Kenya where cash – big sums of currency – are king. And we starved.

Apparently, Ken had spent the bulk of cask on tourist activities in Kenya.

And yes, it was good to give the Deputy Minister and update on our progress. At issue for Ken, ever the proud Kangwane warrior, was that this escapade was taking place in a public setting. Admittedly, he was clothed but we were at that moment financially naked. But Ken was prepared for this challenge and executed his plan to perfection. “Your call, Sire, to the Minister, is connected,” announced the desk clerk with a flourish to all and sundry in attendance. Ken, with what can only be described as a regal air, reached for the phone and began to speak in loud siSwati. Greetings, praise names, appropriate homage, invocation of ancestors, and the appropriately phrased compliment to the minister were provided in a ringing and indecipherable dialect. He proceeded to frame our accomplishments in glowing terms adding:

“Na Baghitsi (dear friend), Namenje l’imlungu wami nga’lapha (my white man here) s’wafa l’imali yetfu (has killed our money). Inalo, siyafuna kuhamba laKangwane (we now wish to go home). And then, as if a matter of national importance were next, paused and looked about the room as if highlight his next statement.

Every eye in the lobby was now focused on Ken Magagula. Every ear awaiting some clue as to what would follow next. And he proceeded; Nkosi (Lord), ngiyafuna ku’ (I am requested that you) …topisha’uppa.”

Then the penny dropped. Almost on cue the lobby erupted into laughter as they recognized the international clarion call for more money. To top up, send cash, bail me out, please help now…whatever the language. It all meant that Ken (and his white guy) needed money. “Hey, Mr. Minister, top me up please!” doesn’t have the same royal ring to it but by God, it’s a common thing.

We made it home without the minister’s money. We hid out on the fringe of the Julius Nyrere International Airport, Tanzania and awaited the arrival of the Swazi national airline, the “Lijubanzazele”. Our entire plan was to walk slowly to the fuselage, catch the eye of the pilot whom was know to us, and ask if we could accompany them back sitting in the navigation seats. And it worked.

The moral of the story? Don’t ask a minister for money. Or, when traveling as a team, make sure everyone keeps both their shoes on.