wedding drums: my swazi teka

5.4.14

 

There is a large cliff at Mantegna Falls, a steep and rocky climb. My fingers barely grip in each small crevice, and my toes cling to every small overhang as I pull my body up the face of massive rock. At the top, I am too out of breath and too dizzy from the steep drop to remember why I have put forth so much effort. I only pause for a moment to take in the grand view of mountains divided by this river pushing through between the rocks, and the top of all of these old trees staring up at me. The waterfall is just to the right, sill towering over me, blessing me with mist as it falls 20 meters below. Its urgency to continue on its broken path is loud, and distracts my thoughts of the task at hand. I step out to on the ledge; shaking as a few small pebbles roll past my white knuckled toes and tumble down, vanishing into the cloud of mist. There is no turning back, for there is no other way to get down off this ledge but to jump. Every second spent looking into the depths below make it 100 times more difficult to rationalize this daring fete. Eyes closed tight, lips pressed tightly together as if not to let a word of good reason to slip out. I push off the rock until there is nothing but air and drops of mist pushing back at the souls of my feet. I am suspended for what feels like hours, feeling heavy as I fall, feeling as if I will never reach the pool of water that awaits me. Screams cannot escape my lips. There is no time for fear, only to fall. When I finally hit the water, it is like hitting a brick wall, but the sensation is euphoric. Blissful happiness and relief fight through feelings of exhaustion and terrifying apprehension. This mix of emotion, this level of complete and utter exhaustion, is how I can best describe the weekend of my Teka.

 

Preparations have been made for months. It has all been a checklist of things to do and things to bring to our rural homestead in Mankayane. We have made endless trips to the far west side of Swaziland, winding around mountains, and through forests, down a long and rocky gravel road to the homestead of George’s deceased uncle. This homestead has become our second home in recent months, an hour away from the lights, and busy roads of Mbabane, where cellphone reception happily disappears for a few hours. As we make our way there, on the way to my teka, the air in the mountain seems thinner. My fingernails are feeling the gravity of my nerves, and the dust in my lungs won’t settle, making me forget to breath. What normally feels like a long drive is passing in seconds today; and within one long blink we are entering the long grassy driveway of the homestead.

 

The yard is busy with people; although it is still afternoon and the festivities do not begin until the early hours of morning. We unload our supplies, build a fire and wait as more and more people arrive. I felt like a statue watching the fire, as people shift and move around me, the clock completing it’s circles in fast forward. There was no sleeping, my eyes were too nervous to blink. By 2am, I was forced to retire, as tradition with the teka requires an early morning rising. Although with a true teka, the bride-to-be in completely unaware of the events in store, and the wake up in the morning is suppose to take you by surprise; my suspense of knowing, but waiting is far worse. I lay in bed, listening to the bustle outside my door for what seemed like eternity. Fighting between wishful thoughts of them to just begin already, and longing for sleep to come so I can postpone the events for just a little while longer.

 

I lay there for hours, staring at the corrugated iron ceiling, until finally I heard the words that would set the teka in motion, like a gun firing to begin a marathon. The pounding on the door was almost mistaken for the beats of my heart, that I thought would certainly leap from my chest. Three people entered the small room and grabbed me from my bed. A crowd was outside signing traditional teka songs. They wrapped a heavy, black terry-cloth skirt around my waist, removed my shirt so I was left with only a sports-bra to cover my nakedness as I was marched out into the cold winter night. I followed a procession of woman to a make-shift kraal which was thankfully empty of cows. They placed me in the middle of their circle, and gave me a spear to hold. This spear would represent my eternal marriage to George; if he were to die before me, I would be able to fend for myself, and these same women would come to me upon his death and shave my head with this very spear to mourn his passing; I am bound to this spear for the day as I am bound to George in life. I stand gripping the shaft tightly, fighting the cold, and the confusion of people surrounding me, who are signing loudly. I am supposed to cry now, but nerves stunt the tears. George’s sisters, to encourage the tears, sling a few words in my direction– it is their sole duty to make me cry until sunrise. I must shed tears to mourn the family I am leaving behind and to honor the family I am joining. It is also a test, as is the entire ceremony, of how great my love is for their brother- how much can I take from them willingly, before I give up and if I give up, the test has been failed and I am not worthy of him.

 

I laugh to hid my feelings, knowing that George’s family isn’t one to purposely hurt anyone without cause- I am failing to take them seriously. I try and fake cry as George’s mom had instructed me. I close my eyes tight, and block out the many voices circling the air. I think of everything that has ever made me sad: Sally Fields screaming in the graveyard in the movie Steel Magnolias. The dog Hackio waiting for his dead owner to get off the train. My family at home who I haven’t seen in over two years. Letters from my Grandmother about birds and the weather. Then without warning, something happened, tears began to roll down my cheeks. Their cold, wet trail caught me by surprise, but their flow was unstoppable. I looked up at the early morning sky, which was unbelievably bright and full of stars. Little puffs of white breath floated above the heads of those around me as they sang, creating one large smoke ring above our heads, with myself in the center. It was beautiful. I cried at its beauty. I cried feeling tiny under this massive sky of spot lit stars and planets looking down at me. I cried until their was no sound; the sobbing escaping from the depths of my belly were canceled by the voices joint in song, and the songs were muffled by the waves of my heaving cries. Although I was standing among a crowd, I felt alone; but not abandoned. I felt as if I was watching everything from above- seeing my body among these people, on this homestead. Watching the men by the braai peek around the corner- stealing glances at the ceremony. Seeing glimpses of George’s parents walking by, holding back cries of their own for me. Watching the women sing and dance in unison. Feeling the neighbors smile in their beds in their own homes, knowing that a special union was taking place today. It was a strange sensation. I felt the love and warmth of those around me. I felt the guidance of loved ones I have lost in my life. It was a truly spiritual experience; a graditude of which I have never experienced in my lifetime.

 

For 3 hours I cried, but time didn’t feel like seconds, minutes or hours… just space. Every few songs, one of the woman in the group would stop their singing and make crying sounds for me, so I could take a break. The auntie leading the ceremony would nudge me and say, “hey, don’t cry now. When someone cries for you, you must rest.” But the tears wouldn’t listen, they just kept coming. I would sob quietly and watch the mesmerizing shuffle of the girl with the sequence mustaches on her shoes, waiting for the next opportunity to release. It was a very transcending experience. I felt closer to God somehow. I felt lighter. I felt as if my Grandmother was there guiding me, and encouraging me—she would’ve been so intrigued by this adventerous life I am living.

 

The sun rose from behind the mountain, and warmed my tear-streaked face. I felt so happy. Happy this part- the part I had dreaded the most- was over, but also just happy. When George’s parents are satisfied with my mourning and it was time to leave the kraal, the Ngozolo, who represents George’s family, runs to the gate, chasing the woman away with a branch. The women scatter like livestock, and I run as well. I’m confused, tired and light headed but I run in every direction my feet will carry me, like a chicken just let out of cage. He catches me and I push him away, unsure if I am suppose to be caught. He grabs me again and whispers in my ear, “It’s ok, come with me.” I am still trying to catch my breath from the running, and convince my lungs to slow their convulsions from my crying as he calms me down, leading me to a far corner of the homestead with the other woman, where we sit on reed mats and make a fire.

 

I’m left with these woman for a few hours, warming ourselves from the cold of the early morning by the fire. They bring tea and bread, and then boil water for bathing. We take turns washing in a bucket, preparing for the introduction to the elders.

 

The night before, George’s mom, whom I adore greatly, told me she was no longer my friend during this ceremony. Her role is to dislike me, and show all those around us that I am not worthy of her son. As she walked toward the small group of woman sitting in the corner, with 2 Bogogo (grandmothers), I could see her sympathy lingering in her eyes, and a small smirk on her face that screamed to me, without words, of her pride in me. It was hard to play my role of submissive mourner as she approached, her presence alone warmed my heart, and I had to hold myself back from leaping from my seat and wrapping my arms around her in embrace.

 

I sat quietly as the elders talked to the group of us in SiSwati, and tried desperately to train my ears to understand the words. They passed around a pitcher of Umcombotsi (traditional homemade wine) and Mahewu (fermented pourage), which we shared as they talked about why I was brought to this homestead, what my intentions were, and why I thought I was good enough to be here. The conversation, although very important, was short and warm in question and the responses given by the woman next to me.

 

It was a short time later that I was instructed to stand; a welcome task, as my back was burning in pain from sitting in the Swazi traditional way with legs stretched in front, and hands folded in my lap. We stood in a line, with myself leading, head down, walking slowing like a captive in a chain gang. The woman sang behind me, gathering the chaos of people in the homestead as they stopped and watch the procession return to the kraal. We did not enter this time, only stood by the gate, with the woman to my back as they sang, and I bowed my head, holding my spear. George’s niece, Jade, had been chosen by his family to be my Inhlanti, which is a child that is given to the new couple to help them in their new life together, in Swazi culture we become this child’s second parents. Children in Swaziland are very important in the roles and responsibilities of the home, helping with the cleaning, cooking etc; traditionally this child would be sent to live with us to lessen the burdens of our daily lives. Jade is sitting nearby, playing with a blade of grass, confused by the day’s events, and I can see she is longing to come a stand by me. She has always been my shadow, since my arrival in Swaziland. She gets her opportunity when the Ngozolo comes running back to the group of woman, and chases us away. I grab my Inhlanti’s tiny little hand and we run to the gate of the homestead. We run, as they chase us, until George’s mother screams “BUYA!” (come back) when we have run far enough. This is my official acceptance by his family, and the first words George’s mother has spoken to me. They have allowed me to stay, but my test is not over.

 

I am ushered back to the homestead by a mighty sea of people, and made to sit on another reed mat in the dusty yard in front of the house- the first time I have been allowed in the main areas of the homestead. I sit with Jade who is confused, and staring at me with big wondering eyes, as a hundred eyes and camera phones stare back at us above. A Gogo comes to us with Libovu (red mud) in an old beer tin that has been cut in half, and begins to paint my face. One quick mark on my forehead, each check, nose, chin, each shoulder, inner elbow and one on the top of each foot. Then the tin is handed to me to paint jade in the same manner. This mud is made from the red African soil of Swaziland, shared by the soles of all Swazi’s including my family, who is being represented by the family I stayed with when I first came to this little Kingdom as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The soil is sacred and shared, and as I paint it on George’s niece, our families are also shared together.

 

We are then led into the house where we again sit on another reed mat. Legs stretched, back paining, and a never-ending crowd of people entering and exiting the house around me, taking pictures of our freshly painted faces. After a while, the Ngozolo enters holding a large white goat by the horns, a gift to the teka by his father, George’s uncle. The goat will be slaughtered in our honor, although I am not allowed to eat it. The head will be eaten by George, which is a great honor reserved for dignified members of his family- today he becomes a man in the eyes of his community and the men of his family. The forehead of the goat will be skinned and made into a bracelet that represents my wedding ring. It is cut and twisted onto my wrist and then covered by a handkerchief that is tied tightly on top, until the fresh leather hardens. In a month I will be allowed to cut through the leather and remove it, until another traditional event of importance arises. The meat will be delivered to my family in Tikuba on Sunday, as a gift in return for the Lobola (dowery) that was paid to them, in return for the bride they have provided (me). Because my true family is an ocean away, my Tikuba family will be offered 1 pregnant cow for representing my family during the teka ceremony, the remainder of my Lobola, 14 cows will be paid to my father in the USA, but will remain in Swaziland on our homestead.

 

The waiting continues inside the house. Michelle (George’s sister) comes to visit with me, which is a welcome distraction. She brings me food, the first meal I’ve eaten in 48 hours. She keeps me awake with conversation, and finds excuses for me to escape and have a few seconds for myself outside of the small, crowded room. When the goat is slaughtered and divided, it is time to fetch water for the men who will be cooking the honorary parts. A large crowd of women gather inside the house, and out– singing me to the car that will bring us to the river that flows 3 km’s away. I am so thrilled that we are cheating, instead of walking the long distance. As I get into the car, ready to escape, for just a moment to anywhere outside the homestead, the auntie’s face appears through the tinted glass of the truck. The Ngozolo is by her side, carrying a thick, freshly fired hunk of meat. I my rumbling stomach screams in excitement for just a split second until I remember where I am, and this meat is most likely not meant to cure my hunger. I am instructed to take a bite, chew and spit out. The goat’s heart is tough like taffy, and tastes of iron. I do it quickly like ripping off a Band-Aid,  but the taste remains. This goat is a gift to me directly, and the heart is the most sacred part. I am not allowed to eat the goat because it is mine, but no one else may eat the heart. My quick taste is my acceptance of this gift, and my understanding of its cultural significance.

 

The back of the truck is standing room only, as we drive slowly down the rocky gravel road. Songs echo off the surrounding mountains as we pass, alerting the entire community that a teka has and is taking place. We arrive at the river and I am given soap to wash myself and Jade as the crowd looks on, never ceasing their song. When I am clean, I am undressed, and adorned with a new dress, Sidziya, a traditional outfit of the bomake (mothers) in the rural areas, and includes a Liduku, a small piece of matching fabric that covers my hair. I am now a Make, a wife, and most wear this Liduku and a skirt whenever I enter a Swazi homestead- a way to show my ranking to other community members wherever I may be in Swaziland. It is stiff, hot fabric, and the fatigue is beginning to set in.

 

We drive to the turn-off to the homestead and file out of the car with two buckets of water. I take one 10-liter jug on my head, carrying my spear in my left hand and gripping tightly to the top of the jug with my right hand, willing the water inside to stop slushing against the sides. My steps are even and slow, but the water continues to pound against the side of the container, digging into the top of my skull and increasing the nagging headache I’ve suffered from since morning. The crowd of women follows me, singing as usual, and the sun allows me no mercy from its burning rays, that are trapped in this stiff dress. A crowd gathers on the homestead, I can see people dancing in the yard as we approach. As I get closer, the camera phones, are out and I am poparozied near tears. A cousin takes the jug from my head and as soon as the soothing feelings of relief are felt they are drowned in the water being spilt on the ground, as George’s family dances with misguided joy around the puddle. I knew this was part of the test, and I expected the water to be spilt as I walked with it on my head to the homestead, but watching it happen sent a stabbing sadness to my core. I turned away quickly so no one could see my tears, and began walking to fetch the second bucket. I cried silently, with the crowd’s song in toe, covering any sign of a whimper that escaped and keeping my cover safe. By the time I reached the second bucket I had convinced myself to stay strong and finish. I rose the bucket to my head and marched. It was a much easier journey, although this bucket was open at the top and I was expecting to be wet with water by the time I reached my destination, I was somehow able to avoid it. I walked into the yard, and the crowd had grown. People were stopping in front of me to take photos, therefore stopping my determined march. I could feel the frustration rising faster then I could keep it in check. I reached what I thought was my finish line, but the crowd urged me to continue. Arms shaking, neck breaking under the weight of the water. Finally another cousin removed the bucket from my head, and I felt no sympathy as is a little spilled on him, when my knees gave out and turned to jelly. The procession that had followed me for the last hour danced around me in a clostrophobic circle, whistling and singing at the top of their lungs and then led me out again into the yard. I must bring back firewood, and I am happy that Jade is by my side again, distracting my thoughts for just a moment or two. The Ngozolo has prepared a bundle of small branches, so small I laugh, but am relieved that again they are allowing me to cheat just a little. The parade continues back to the house, as cameras click, click, click around us. We unload and voices rejoice that I am done. I have finished all of my tasks.

 

I am so overwhelmed with happiness and relief that I have to fight back tears. Then a hand grabs my arm and begins leading me away. What now, I think to myself as I see another empty reed mat laid out on the lawn in front of the house. My back stabs with pain before I am even instructed to sit. I look for George’s face among the crowd, but cannot find him. Just eyes staring back at me, and cameras reflecting my own distraught face back at me through their lens. I have an overwhelming feeling to run away and I begin looking for a break in the crowd, but find none. My breathing quickens, and the claustrophobia sets in, I have to go. My emotions of joy, happiness, fear, fatigue, anger, frustration, sadness are colliding and are about to explode. I get up quickly and run to the backside of the house, passing whispering voices as I go. The open air of my hiding spot is a welcome sensation, and within moments George appears, dressed for the first time ever in full traditional attire. He is a sight for sore eyes, and for the first time all day I am able to hug him. I relish in his company. I am happy to have someone else dressed up traditionally, and it somehow gives me the strength to go back to my reed mat, in the middle of the crowd.

 

I do not sit for long before the Gogo returns to me and beckons me to follow her into the house. My arm gripped tightly in her fist, and George’s arm in the other. We are led to yet another reed mat on the cold cement floor of the house and instructed to sit next to each other, with our new daughter between us. The Ngozolo appears, holding what appears to be a blood covered, brown balloon. I am not phased, and before I am educated to what this grotesque thing is, I know this next task will not be pleasant. The Gogo says a few things in SiSwati, I am grateful I do not understand until George says “open your mouth”. The Ngozolo holds the thing over my head, purposely dripping a few drops of the putrid liquid on my forehead before I taste the bitter, sour landing upon my tongue. The Gogo kneels down and puts a few drops on my right shoulder, inner elbow, and the top of my foot. Swallowing is hard, and I fight the urge to return this thing filling my mouth back to them. George receives next, and I am secretly happy that at least this time he has had a taste of my days ordeal. He looks at me with big sad eyes, as he too struggles to swallow, but I know his look says he is grateful for my strength throughout the day. It is only after I was able to wash down the powerful lingering bitterness from my lips, that I could ask what this substance was. Bilal from the goat’s stomach, to represent the long hard, and sometimes, bitter road of marriage. Opposed to the sharing of a single slice of wedding cake, this tradition prepares the new couple for a true and realistic life together, it is not always sweet, and if we can share in the bitterness and fight the urge from the deepest part of our bellies to give up, then we can make it through our marriage together.

 

The day ends with songs and traditional dancing. I sit with Jade and George’s mother, clapping, laughing and smiling despite my eyes that are heavy with the day’s exhaustion. I greet my new family, share a drink to seal the ceremony’s events, and converse with a few friends who have joined us late to witness and celebrate our union. When every ounce of energy has been spent, every last word my few remaining brain cells can collectively combine to create speech has been utilized, I am struck by the most desperate and demanding urge to sleep. I sneak off to my little mattress, in the dark and welcoming cold room where it all started. I remove my traditional dress with a stifling relief and redress myself in jeans and a t-shirt, despite my desire to sleep, I am unbelievable happy to have a little piece of my former life on my person- I feel at home. I lie down and sleep comes easily; I smile as I go over the day’s events briefly in my head. I’m proud. I have made George and his family proud. I hear the whisper of voices through the wall, praising my commitment to Swazi culture and welcoming me, through conversations between others, into the family. For everyone this has been a once in a lifetime event, and my commitment to this traditional ceremony, as a non-swazi, has left behind something of a legacy to those who where there to witness. As my head becomes heavy with sleep, I don’t dream, I don’t stir, I just sleep… the most peaceful, blissful, fulfilling sleep of my life; my first as a Swazi wife.

 

 


DOCTOR DOCTOR

11.7.13

 

A line of baby chicks cross my path, scurrying behind their mother. The parking lot is littered with cars, parked anywhere a vehicle can park; on the sidewalk, in the grass, half-way up hills. We wind our way between them like a maze, toward the underpass of the building. Every patch of shade is cluttered with people sitting on the muddy, dirty ground. Some people look like they have been here for days, propping themselves up with tired hands, or giving up completely, stretched out on the pavement napping in any hope of shelter from the blaring sun. we enter the first block of the building and the stinging aroma of old urine hits me like a backhand to my senses. The signs are confusing. We turn down one hallway and end up outside, along an open air corridor filled with people sitting along each side. They watch us like walk in our quick-step like entertainment they have waited all afternoon to arrive. Its strangely quiet, and our footsteps echo on the cool, cracked tiles beneath our feet.

 

We are wandering, and i’m concentrating hard to not touch railings, walls or anything my fingers may unintentionally linger on. George asks someone who may have worked there, where ward 18 was located, and she kindly directs us with little words, just a hand motion that suggests straight until a bend to the left and then possibly in the area directly over our heads. She tries to shake Georges hand, but George politely pulls away and gives her two phantom pats on her back. We speed off in the direction to which she indicated.

 

Ascending a long steep ramp to the second level. Whats left of the ceiling is stained with brown water marks. The brightly painted walls is peeling to such a degree to looks like the whole wall is covered in a colorful fringe; one gust of wind through this hallway could send the entire wall to dust. Someone has tried to paint a uplifting, childlike mural along the wall, no doubt to indicate the direction of the pediatric ward, but the paint dulls in the dim light, and the state of the rest of the wall, creating the feeling like we are walking down a dark alleyway in a bad part of town. I can’t stop staring at the ceiling as we continuing ascending up this never ending ramp. I wondering how old this hospital is, and can’t help thinking this collapsing ceiling is made completely of abestise, a once common mineral mined in Swaziland; although no longer used for construction, can still often be found in standing buildings throughout the country.

 

We pass a sign for operating theaters, and I glance down the narrow hallway. The ceiling is hanging low, and covered with the same brown spots. The wing is reeking from the bleach, in a poor attempt to disguise the gaping potholes in the tiles on the floor. We reach another outdoor corridor, connecting two wings of the building, again lined with people camping in the shade with expressionless faces. A sign directly in front of us reads “WARD 18 -WOMANS WARD”. For the first time I realize this is going to be one big room. The thought hits me, and I immediately am bewildered why George’s mother has come here and not to the nice clinic down the road.

 

Approaching the two parlor doors to the ward, I can see metal bars, and pink sheets hanging around each bed, of which, there are at least two dozen. There is no one at the door, and we linger for a moment before we open, breathing against the tiny glass windows searching for something familiar. I’m half hoping this isn’t the room. It can’t be. We enter and take a few unsure steps, George is scooping the room looking for any sign of someone coming to stop us, as I try not to make direct eye contact with anyone. I feel like I am invading at least 40 people’s privacy, especially the woman in the second bed, closest to the window who is sleeping upright, with not a stitch of clothing on her body, aside from the scarf wrapped loosely around her head.

 

Luckily Georges mother is in the second row, first bed by the main aisle. I am happy to see her face resting peacefully, and estactic that we do not have to venture further into this sea of strangers, searching their weak and tired faces. George gives her a gentle shake on her shoulder, and stands over her until she opens her eyes. “hi mom.” he says. I want to hug her, and steal her away from this place. He doesn’t seemed phased, and I am traumatized.

 

We chat for a while, she should be going home tomorrow. Her diabetes has been uneasy as of late, and the weekend festivities of a retaliative Lobola ( the cultural tradition of deciding a new brides price with the grooms family, which is usually proceeded by a party something similar to an engagement party, meets a BBQ), sent her blood sugar sky rocketing. The Taiwanese doctor attending to the female ward, refuses to discharge her until her levels stabilize. Her spirits are high, as they always are, and she begs us to bring her something edible for lunch. Hospital food is a universal desperatity, so we don’t waste time making a plan to smuggle her a nice take-away from our favorite restaurant. We laugh as George coughs and I sneeze, and she asks for a phone number for a casket maker. I’ve never quite understood the dark swazi humor, but looking at the 3 of us in our separate ill states, we could take bets on who would need it first. I have grown very fond of George’s mom; she is strong willed, but kind natured. Evident by the immensity of friends she had made with all the staff and patients in Ward 18. She reminds me daily at the school that she runs, and where I work, of her kindness with her endless involvement in every child’s life and concern for their well being. This is a commonality that both of our mothers share.

 

As we leave, George says “don’t ever take me here…” I burst out a quick, “ummm… yeah… me either.” I realize at that moment, that George isn’t as comfortable as I thought about his mother being at the government hospital, and i’m relieved, but curious. Before I can ask, he explains, “ at least she is only paying 10 Emalageni a night, the private hospitals charge a couple grand a night.” it suddenly all makes sense, although I would still prefer to go to a private health care clinic , especially in Swaziland, I am reminded of several moments in my own life, living in the USA, where an option of government health care could have saved me thousands of dollars.

 

The more I thought about it, the more this somewhat traumatizing visit to the government hospital had me concerned, I was actually jealous. I thought about the sea of faces I passed, in the open-air corridor. People that had no doubt traveled great distances to come seek health care. People that probably used their last, worn out bills in their wallets to get to the hospital. Maybe they don’t have running water. Maybe they don’t have electricity. Maybe some of them live in a house built with mud-bricks and sticks. Then my thoughts turn to writing this blog, as I sit here typing now. I think about my friends and family and how they must have been worried by the end of paragraph one, what if something were to happen to me? Where would I go? Its ironic really, that in the states I rarely had health care. I made over $40,000 a year, plus benefits, and I still couldn’t afford a trip to the doctor, let alone the emergency room stateside. Not to get into a political rant about universal healthcare, but after living here, and seeing how a government hospital can help the mass majority, despite insurance benefits or community standing; it amazes me that a 3rd world country, such as Swaziland, can care for its people better, and with more options then a country as rich and powerful as the United States. Something worth pondering don’t you think?


image

Continue reading

image

Continue reading

image

Continue reading

image

Continue reading

image

Continue reading

image

Continue reading

Catus

image


A week in the life of….

MONDAY

Its hard to wake up, and all I can think is how is it possibly Monday again. There is an empty nest in the bed that George left hours ago. I didn’t even hear him get up, but I can hear the coffee machine making its loud series of noises as it finishes filling the pot. The aroma seeks up the stairs and slowly drags me from my hibernation. I go through the list of things I need to do during the day as I head to the kitchen, the list is too long to think about this early. The sun is shining through the windows, its blindingly bright, and as I look at the time i’m shocked to see it’s only 6am- this has become “sleeping in”. I pour the first two cups of coffee; its our ritual, if George makes the pot, I pour the cups and vice versa.

 

We sit on the island counter in the kitchen talking and drinking coffee, planning our day. Then we take a stroll around our garden which is currently over flowing with new plants. The rain that comes without fail every sunday has perked up every cluster of leaves and the flower petals gleam happy with drops of water. We waste an hour or so each day with this routine; making plans for the garden, and walking around impressed with our progress.

 

By 8am we are both running late, and we quickly dress. Monday is suppose to be my day to work at home, but I rarely do. My list is too daunting for a Monday, and i’m not feeling inspired to create much of anything, so I opt to ride with George on his sales calls. I hope secretly he is going somewhere far away, which although i’ve been everywhere before, and nowhere is especially exciting, the long drives are nice and I feel like i’m keeping him company.

 

We are going to Piggs Peak today, my favorite part of the country. It is beautiful, with rolling mountains in every direction and narrow winding hills that create butterflies in your stomach with each dip. Trips to Piggs Peak always mean a stop by Mrs. Kuma, a family friend who owns a resturant on one of the many scenic overlooks. Mrs. Kuma is like an older version of myself, and believes that everything can be made herself if she can just get a look at how its done- I love this about her, and we spend hours chating about crafting and exchanging ideas over lunch.

 

The drive takes the whole day, and we only see two hardware stores. While George sells, I sit in the car and grade papers, read a book or more likely… play solitaire on my phone. When George returns to the car, on the good days, he has a list of supplies the shop needs; bolts, construction chemicals, door knobs etc. we sit with his massive catalog of prices and code every item. I know his products inside and out, even if I don’t know what they are used for, I can find them in his book. We sit in his mobile office for hours sometimes, coding and adding; its boring but I enjoy being his assistant.

 

We drive home over Maguga Dam at sunset. Just in time to see the water sparkle like diamonds, its my favorite part of the day.

 

TUESDAY

I wake up a little quicker this morning. More time to walk through the garden. I’m feeling a little guilty for playing hookey yesterday and tomorrow I have school, which I have yet to prepare for. Today I MUST work. George leaves a little later today, lingering in the kitchen, asking “have one more cup of coffee before I leave?”. I can’t resist, so I stall a little longer.

 

He leaves once Lungile and Wiseman come in, our maid and garden boy. He walks Wiseman around the yard, giving him is daily instruction and I take Lungile around the house doing the same. After he leaves I turn on Florence and the Machine, my official work music. Something about this music makes me want to work. As much as I love this band on Tuesdays, the sound is as irritating as an alarm clock beeping, every other day of the week. I turn on my computer, get another cup of coffee, sit down, and make my list in my little book I always carry with me. Today i’m designing a menu for my favorite restaurant, that just happens to be owned by a group of friends. They pay me in food, but i’d more than likely spend my paycheck there throughout the month anyway. The chef studied in the states and often adds American flare to the menu. Number two on the list is a new calendar for my printing partner. Custom calendars are all the rave here and I know I will be overwhelmed with design orders for them by the end of the month. Next is a marketing plan for a new semi-arcade that just opened in the brand new Mbabane mall. They need EVERYTHING and this one will take a while. The rest of the list is scattered with return clients that need updates or a generic advert made for the newspaper.

 

I get to work, checking off my list one by one with red pen. Each checkmark is rewarded with a fresh cup of coffee and a short walk around the yard to catch the sun. its a simple routine, but effective. I am in a zone, and before I know it’s 3pm and the maid is leaving. I’m jittery from a caffeine overdose, and i’ve just realized I haven’t eaten anything all day. The house is spotless, except for the little nook in the corner where my desk is overflowing with papers. Now that I have been snapped out of my zone, I begin to get bored with work. My brain is tired and i’m starving so I begin dinner for George when he gets home. I feel so domestic these days.

 

WEDNESDAY

My alarm goes off at 5am… then 5:15am…. then 5:30am…. the snooze only works 3 times and then you have to reset the alarm, which means staring at the blazingly bright screen of my phone. The pain occurred is too great, and its easier to simply wake up. Although its only 30mins before George usually wakes up, any other day, he can’t bare to drag himself out of bed, so I make the coffee while he sleeps a bit longer. There is no time for the garden walk today, we snoozed too long. I’m going to be late for work as usual.

 

I enter the school parking lot and all of the students are already lined up by grade outside for morning assembly. They are signing church songs as usual, and I wonder which one I will get stuck in my head today- I pray it’s not “father abraham”. They sing for 20 minutes, and close with the Lords prayer. Georges dad, the Headmaster of the school, gives a few remarks, which i’m sure where meant to be short, but he always gets side tracked. I giggle as the children stir and you can see their minds wander off to something else as his speech drags on. Sometimes I look at him and see a carbon copy of my George in 40 years.

 

Assembly ends with the “Marching song” and all the kids March 3-4 steps towards their classrooms and then run, into a riotous crowd of small bodies. This is my we to unlock my classroom which is also the computer lab. The outside door is gated with a huge, heavy iron gate that locks on each side and the top with 3 padlocks with 3 keys, and then has to be lifted up and out of its frame before I can unlock the wooden door to the classroom. It is my morning exercise. My classroom is always a mess from Monday and Tuesday- i’m sure the other teachers have parties in there the days i’m not at school. I clean up the clutter, and stack it on top of the piles of books in the corner, which still don’t have book cases.

 

My first class is grade 4. they are excited as they run in and sit at the desks. They love my art class, although my morning always starts with a lecture on responsibility because they never do their homework. Schools in Swaziland believe in Corporal punishment, and idea I just can’t get use to. If students don’t do their homework, they will get hit on the bum with a stick, or made to do “frog jumps”, or stand for 30 mins holding their chair over their head. I don’t do any of these things, so the kids don’t do their homework… i’m working on a solution for this.

 

Next is grade 3. these kids are tiny, and their questions throughout the day make me laugh. Somedays I draw with them, and even when they see me draw they don’t believe I did it. The students beg me to teach them how to draw like me, and I ask in return, “why do you think I come everyday??” they are a hyper bunch, always out of their desks and Banele, my biggest brown-noser in the whole school, falls out of his chair EVERYDAY.

 

They are followed by grade 5, my smallest class of 7 students. I know these kids well, and they love my class. I try to make lots of time for them to draw and I bring my computer to listen to music. I love it when they all sign to Adele together, it always makes me smile.

 

I know your not suppose to have favorites, but grade 6 takes the cake. Not only are they ALL amazing artists, but they do their homework, and I can tell they take the most time. They are of a curious age and we are always talking as they draw. By the end of class I always have a map drawn on the chalkboard, or i’m showing them pictures on my computer of life in the USA. After almost a year teaching at the school they are the only class of which I know, and can pronounce every name. One of my students has found a special place in my heart. He comes to school in an old raggedy shirt, i’m sure passed down through numerous brothers and sisters- its so old its nearly transparent. His pants are too short, and the seems are split in the back. His shoes are 4 sizes too big, and look like they belong to an older relative. I’ve inquired about him, and discovered he is living with a step-mother who could careless about his existence. His father owns several businesses and does well, but has lost interest in this child now that he has another family to care for. Despite all of this, he is the happiest, handsomest little boy. He always does 3x the homework I request, and has an irresistible shy smile as he shows me his work at the end of class. If I could, I would take him home with me in a second. He is still so full of hope and life, no complaints and never asks for anything. He has the personality that, which a little positive encouragement could do great things one day. I plan on keeping him close and giving him that little extra attention he is missing at home, and also slowly buying him a new school uniform, so he can feel proud while he is learning.

 

My last class after lunch is grade 7. every 7th grader in the country takes a national exam at the end of the year, and the results are published in the newspaper. It is a stressful year of endless studying and review. The class curriculum is based solely on revising past years lessons and retaking tests in preparation of the big exam. The students come early to school, stay late, study through lunch and come for extra lessons over the weekend. If I had schooled here growing up, I never would’ve handled the pressure of grade 7. the class is small, only 6 students, all transfers from another school, since our school is brand new. But transferring in grade 7 is hard, and I know these kids all have a story of woe. Accounting for all of this, this is my most difficult class. Art is not on the final exam, so they don’t care so much for my lessons, however they do enjoy a break from the dull, dark walls of their classroom which they see so often. I try to support them and help them with their other lessons, that they are so far behind with. Art class this term has turned into creative writing and english, even if its just talking so they can practice speaking proper english.

 

By 1pm, school is over. I’m covered in the red dust of Matsapha and sweating from the heat outside my concrete classroom. My black pants are covered in chalk, and I have an unquenchable thirst. George picks me up, and we drive away slowly as the children follow the car waving, as if i’m a celebrity. “bye teacher!” they all shout. I admit, it makes me smile a little.

 

THURSDAY

If I have any left over work from tuesday I do it today, but more then likely I ride with George. This time we head south toward Matata. This is one of my favorite trips because of the perks. There is a great butchery along the way, with the best biltong (jerky) in the country, we always stop and get a bag for the journey, and it is always worth the 2 hour drive. Matata is a funny little town in the middle of sugar cane country. It has everything you could need, including a welder who makes my custom designed patio chairs and a little nursery that specializes in indigenous plants. On the way home we go through a dry, dessert like region which is lush with aloe and acacia plants. Last month several hundred aloe plants were cut down by the side of the road, which is starling because the are supposedly a protected species, indeginous to only swaziland. We decided to give as many of these plants a good home as possible, and every week we fill the back of Georges truck with the huge aloe trees. We can only lift the smaller plants, which are still sometimes as big as toddler. The larger plants can grow to a full tree and are too heavy to load. We have collected at least 7 different types of aloe trees so far, and have a collection of over 50 plants to date. They are the easiest plants to grow, even without roots- you just stick them in a hole and water everyday for the first week, and then they grow. It amazes me.

 

FRIDAY

school again today. Assembly on fridays highlights each grades singing, and even offers a few solo performances. Its entertaining, especially watching the grade 7 boys try to act too cool while singing gospel songs. I unlock my giant heavy gate on the door and turn on all the computers, praying that the electricity works today. I’m dreading my first class of 1st graders and then second graders- although the second graders are growing on me. Grade 1, will be the death of me. Many of the kids don’t speak english well, and with my accent, it doesn’t help. It also doesn’t help that grade 1 and 2 have the most students in the school; I take half the class each week and half is still 2x the size of my other older grades i’m use to. The grade 1′s think all my computers are touch screen and don’t understand the concept of the mouse. They bang my keyboards, and are always touch the wires they aren’t suppose to. Computers break daily with them, and I spend most of the class screaming, “QUIET!”. Grade 6 comes after them, and they stand outside my door waiting for me to dismiss the small ones, laughing at my tantrums.

 

The older grades are doing very well with computers. They are learning how to type with 10 fingers, which is entertaining to watch. They are also writing creative stories as they type. The things these kids think of…. is beyond me. I spend the majority of the day fixing things they accidentally clicked on and spelling words for them on the board.

 

I’m done with school by 11am on fridays. George comes to get me, and we run errands for an hour or two. By friday we are exhausted, and unmotivated to do more work. We always finish by 3pm and head to the Albert Millin to cash in on some of my credit of food for design work.

 

SATURDAY

if the sun decides to shine we end up with an impromptu braai. Friends appear from everywhere, and gather in our backyard around the small grill. We are drinking cider by 11am, and i’m in the kitchen preparing salads and sides for a dozen people. People love our new house and any excuse to come admire our extraordinary view.

 

One of our good friends recently discovered bee keeping as a hobby and has brought us our own bee-box so we can collect honey. This is pretty exciting and will also help our garden flourish.

 

SUNDAY

my favorite day of the week, reserved solely for “plant jacking”. We start early in the morning, despite the rain that never fails to miss a sunday opportunity. Pack 2 shovels in the back of the truck and start driving. No place in-particular in mind, just driving. My eyes are watching the passing landscape like a hawk. Any sign of color or plant life we don’t yet own we pull over and start digging. We drive for hours searching and filling the back of the buckey. Sometimes we come home with one or two plants and sometimes we have plants sticking out the windows, and overflowing over the tailgate. Aloe, african violets, morning glory, elephant ears, monster plants, lilly’s, oak trees, jacaranda trees, coral trees, lemon trees, guava, avocado, mango, umbrella trees and species of plants i’ve never seen or heard of before.

When we get home, we start placing them all over the yard, where we want to plant them. We may plant some, and then leave the rest for the garden boy when he comes again on tuesday.

 

We spend the rest of the evening making our traditional sunday feast. George cooks the best feasts, or grilled chicken or fish in the oven, with potato wedges and veggies. I make the salads, because as skilled as I have become with stove top cooking, my patience for the oven is not up to par, and my only accomplishment is making everything I bake extra crispy.

 

While we cook, we step over the ever growing pile of dogs sleeping on the kitchen rug. When it rains, we let the dogs inside to stay warm. They are a spoiled group of dogs I admit, George calls them “lani” which means “posh”, and expression usually reserved for white people here. Our dogs are part of the family, like children, with different personalities and we love spending time with them. Frank is becoming my favorite. A HUGE Boerbull breed, with sad eyes. He is as dumb as a bag of bricks, but so cuddly. We call him statue for his knack of falling asleep sitting up, or sitting directly in front of the TV- watching or barking at the dogs he hears in the movies. We go to bead exhausted with red, mud stained hands. Not ready for monday again.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers