A Whole Lot of Sewing Machines

(re-posted from May 2011)

From julieanderson.myadventures.org

Last Friday my mission was to get 50 brand new Singer sewing machines that we had purchased from the factory in Johannesburg, SA, across the border into Swaziland. It’s a project that’s been dragging on for a few months for various reasons, so I’m pretty excited that my mission was accomplished, and in a relatively short and painless amount of time. Here’s a little run-down of the day with some random observations thrown in:

The day before we had arranged for the delivery truck to meet me at the border at 12 noon. The driver called me at 9:45am to say he was already there. Two hours early is WAY better than 2 hours late.

At the border there were a bunch of cows in the parking lot. They looked a little confused and like they didn’t know where they were going. They probably thought the same thing about me.

The South African border guard greeted me with “Hello beauty queen.” They really know how to woo a girl in this part of the world. After a few more (very loud) stamps in my passport I was across the border, and found the Singer truck just on the other side.

I got the paperwork from the truck driver, then headed into “The Shack,” where God did not reveal himself as a large African-American woman (that only makes sense if you know about the book), BUT by so wonderfully answering my prayers that there would NOT be a long line of people waiting to fill out paperwork!!!

“The Shack” is where the customs brokers hang out…the guys that fill out all your forms. It’s a small building like the pre-fab sheds you put up in your back yard to store your lawn mower in. It’s raised off the ground a bit, and there are several places where you feel like you’re about to fall through the floor. There’s not much talking in the shack. If they need a piece of paper they just point at it with their chin and stick out there hand. If they’re ready for you to pay them, they lay a receipt down in front of you. When the guy stood up, looked at me briefly and walked out the door with all my paperwork, I assumed it meant I’m supposed to follow. I have become a master at reading body language.

A couple relatively short lines later, the paperwork is completed on the South African side. The truck driver was MIA for about 30 min at this point, but he finally showed up, and we head back to the Swazi side of the border. All this probably took an hour and a half. Not too bad at all.

Things were a little more crowded on the Swazi side. I stood in one ‘mass’ (kind of like a line only not really) for a while. Then I’m told that line is only for declaring personal items and that I should go stand in the other line/mass for declaring goods for a company. This line is longer, and slower, and someone had obviously had Tuna for lunch. I’m the only woman in line. I’m the only non-Swazi in line.  I’m wishing I’d worn something on my feet besides my $7 Old Navy flip flops.

An hour or so later it’s my turn in line…

“Name of your company?”

“Adventures In Missions.”

She clicks through some things on her computer, “Adventure Sports?”

“No, Adventures In Missions.”

“Well you’re listed here as Adventure Sports.”

“No that’s not us. We’re Adventures In Missions.” (repeat these last two lines 3x)

“Well what name is your trading license under…because here it says Adventure Sports.”

“We don’t have a trading lisence, we’re a non-profit organization.”

“A what?”


“Your not perfect?” (sometimes my accent makes me hard to understand)

“Well no, I’m not, but we’re a NON PROFIT. We’re not a business that sells things.”

“Oh, well then go stand in that line.”

I then returned to the line I was in to begin with.

Another hour or so later it’s my turn:

“Why are you here again?”

After a little more confusing conversation they told me that I needed to register our company with customs in Mbabane-the capital city, 30 minutes away. I was unsuccessful at holding back a fairly loud and exasperated sigh.

As pitifully as I could, I told them about my ignorance in all things having to do with importing. I told them these sewing machines are going to help swazi women… that we feed orphans… Without saying a word the woman helping me turned and walked away. Hmmm…

A few minutes later she returned with her supervisor, who also said I must register with customs, but at the same time signed all my paperwork so that we could cross the machines right then. HAPPY. HAPPY. HAPPY. (I was hoping he’d also reduce the amount of tax we needed to pay, but that didn’t happen. )

SUCCESS! We’re across the border and on our way.

A few minutes later I get pulled over for speeding. The cop greeted me with ‘hello sweetie pie.’ (slightly more annoying than “beauty queen.”) Fortunately tickets are only about $9 here and they keep no record of how many you’ve gotten.

At some point the truck driver, who was following me to my house, went MIA again when he started following another care just like mine.  Another 30 minutes of waiting alongside the road.

Finally at about 5pm we make it to my house! Compared to scenarios I had imagined in my head, and stories I’ve heard from other African borders and customs, I think the day went pretty smoothly.

My next mission this is to get all 50 sewing machines delivered to their new owners. I’m so excited to get them in their hands!! God’s going to use these machines to provide for the needs of 50 Swazi women and their families. I’m so thankful for what I get to be a part of here.  (I’ll also be pretty thankful when there aren’t 50 sewing machines in my garage and dining room!)

We’re hoping to order another 25 machines ASAP, so if you’ve had thoughts lately like, “Man, I wonder how I could buy a sewing machine for a cute little granny in Swaziland,” I’m the person you need to talk to!

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