“ . . . and do visit our theatre, House on Fire” finished Ruth, our source of all tourist tips.

We were dubious, but we were passing, needed a coffee and stopped.  It’s in a small complex on the edge of nowhere and we sat gawping while waiting for our coffee.

The outside looks like a bunch of people were each told ”Here’s where the walls are going to be, each of you can build a metre of wall, any style you like.”  There’s towers, odd-shaped windows, varying heights, bits and pieces of decorative materials – you name it, somebody used it.

House of FireInside was even wierder.  A wall with carved reliefs ranging from adverts for products from the 1930s to Egyptian and Hindu gods.  Random-shaped bits of glass and tile in the floors.  A – pillar? sculpture-in-the-round? – with probosces verging on the lewd and surreal carvings.  A modern poem painted in 6” amber letters in curving lines on a terracotta wall.  The box office was bright orange-red with a grotesque figure on its roof.  No symmetry, just exuberance, fun and colour from the ground up.   It was a theatre, complete with boxes each fitted with a teak table+benches familiar to any British pub-goer, but it was also sculpture garden and art-gallery.

house of fire actorsAnd on that day, it was venue for a photo-shoot for Gone Rural, a project providing work for 731 rural women which exports to 32 countries.  The models were being dressed (if that’s the word) in a selection of Gone Rural’s main product, raffia place-mats.  Bent into sexy curves and stitched together, the resulting “dresses” were completely stunning.  Professional models they may have been, but they were happy for an amateur snapper to take pictures.  That’s Swaziland for you – friendly, laid-back and in places stunningly beautiful.

(Bridget and Andrew Batchelor stayed at the Forester’s Arms in northern Swaziland in October 2012)