can’t sleep today. I wish I could say that it was late when I said that, but in actuality its barely 10pm. I should have been asleep hours ago so I could get my full 12 hours!
Things have been busy for a change! Well… busy for Swaziland. Last week I traveled to Manzini (the largest city in the country (which should not really impress anyone)) for the annual Reed Dance. If you google “Swaziland” you may have found yourself staring at photos of thousands of young, bare breasted maidens adorned in tiny beaded skirts, tassels and feathers in their hair. Believe it or not, this is the time honored dance of the “virgins”. I use “virgins” loosely, as any young lady from 0-25 can participate, as long as they have managed to not get knocked up…yet. This year over 80,000 gals came to the the call of the king for the festivities. They began shipping out girls from my village a week before the main event, literally by the truck load. Huge government trucks rolled into town, and left again a few hours later with hundreds of suitcases tied to the back, and the girls teetering on top. It was quite a sight, and sound, as all the trucks sped down the dirt road as pre-teen voices sang and spectators cheered from the sidelines. They arrived at the kings palace where they were met by the Princess, who leeds the festival every year, and were instructed where to go to cut the reeds. I’m still not sure what all these reeds are for exactly, but the papers say it involved a 3 hour walk. The papers also said this year the maidens would not be allowed to bath at night for fear or people sneaking a peek, so they would bath in the afternoon, so the police could keep a better eye… on … them… oh, the festival of virgins!
At any rate, I arrived on monday for the main event- not sure what to expect. The rest of the country and I squeezed into a grand stadium (that would only really rival a high school football field), and watched the parade of girls. There was A LOT of them. It was overwhelming actually. Each region, and village wore a different color theme, and had a different dance, which was more like a shuffle really, as they marched by the stands. After about an hour of this, the warriors entered the field, with the king hidden in the middle of the crowd- it was kind of like Swazi “where’s waldo”, but his lepared skin loin cloth (which is reserved for royalty) and red feathers (ditto) were a dead give away. I snapped a picture, and then headed out. To give you an idea of how small this country is… on my way out I ran into: every PCV in the country, my swazi mom (I didn’t know was there), my swazi cousin (who was dancing), the country director of the PC, a guy I randomly met at a party, my swazi neighbor and the princess- who I managed to compliment on her steller choice of yellow aviator shades. Swaziland just keeps getting smaller.
I made it back to Tikhuba on Tuesday at 10am, just enough time to drop my bags and run to the meeting hall, where my new class was being held. COSPE is a NGO organized by the european union, and has a large presence here in Swaziland. They teach life skills, HIV awareness, agriculture, marketing etc- basically everything I am here for, but with a bigger budget and as the people in peace corps like to think… less insight on what the community needs. (to quote president Kennedy “…at the last mile there is only a Peace Corps Volunteer…”). However, this workshop is for the OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) committee, which is one of many things I am now a member of, come to find out. So I went, hoping to get some notes on how the meetings were run, and what I could do in the future to make them better. Teacher had other ideas, and liked to make me an example every chance she got- which would have been fine if I understood or spoke fluent siswati. Though I sat through most of the 8 hour days with a note book full of funny doodles, I did manage to gain some interesting insights on the community and problems they are facing. Thank you COSPE for helping me do my job! There are some very interesting changes happening in Swaziland, and I’m excited to be here to watch them unfold. For example my teacher was telling a story about how she finally divorced her husband for sleeping around, and she was fed up with taking care of bastard babies he kept bring home. (keep in mind, divorce is not something you do here. Its basically, lawfully, impossible and brings disgrace to your family. There is also a lot of issues around cows- but thats an explanation for another day…) So teacher is telling the story, I am doe eyed listening (in siswati, but getting the idea) and watching the shocked reaction from the crowd of women around me. One women stays she was nearly beaten to death by her husband, so she thinks its funny that a mistress would be means for divorce. Another women asks her what her mother would say. It was fascinating- and I could feel the beginning of change. From one story, sparks woman empowerment. Go teacher!
Next week I will be meeting with my counterpart to go over notes on the meeting and start developing a home survey so we can collect data. I’m excited to finally get started on work- not that eating sugarcane and listening to rap music all day wasn’t fun too.
It is also the month of my birthday (WOOT! WOOT!). I’m having a little shin-dig with my family and friends on my homestead. I am making them all make-shift pizza and cupcakes, and plan to dance under the stars. My family is very excited to dance, wear short skirts and eat meat… its the little things… On my actual birthday a bunch of PCV are heading to the capital to celebrate. I am SO very excited that DJ Cleo (only the most famous musician in Swaziland, for his hit “Shisa”) will be playing on sept 16th at the one and only club in the country. If you don’t know the song, you should youtube it, but be warned its addicting… especially when you know the dance that goes with it.
PS. being September I would like to apologize to all of you in the midwest that are entering 9 months of cold, rainy, awful weather… here is southern africa it is beginning to heat up. I look forward to eating bucket loads of mangos on the beach in Mozambique this December 🙂 (MaWhahahahahah (evil laugh))
Wedding Drums are Ringing
Saturday I had quite the adventure. I woke up with the intention of spending the afternoon in town, to have a nice quiet day with my American friend at the pub. Sipping on a nice cold cider and not speaking siswati unless I really, really wanted to. While I was having my morning cup of joe, make (pronounced ma-gay (meaning mother)) tapped, tapped, tapped on my door. “ Zethu! I am going to a wedding today. Join me!” (P.S. My new name is Zethu Mutinda. Zethu means “ours”) what could I do? Go to town and miss out on a great cultural experience?? I think not. So I dressed in my homemade skirt and we departed.
On the bus to town I tried to find out where we were going. “it’s not too far.” she says. After an hour on the bus we arrived in Siteki, my closest town. We spent 45 mins running around like mad men, buying ema sweetie (candy) to sell at the wedding. “hmmm…” I think, this will be interesting. We boarded a kumbi (bus) and headed down the plateau. Once out of town the kumbi continued to pick up people. Usually these mini vans have a 15 person max… we managed at least 25. we couldn’t shut the door at one point, which didn’t really matter because A. we were packed like sardines, so no one was falling anywhere. B. the door kept popping open anyway. We arrived at our “stesh”, which was marked by a fork in the road, and fields of nothing. We piled out of the kumbi, realizing on the way that Make’s cousin was riding with us the whole time! We walked the 5 miles to the homestead, sweating, chatting and me wishing I had brought water (DOOH!)
the homestead was HUGE, by far the biggest I have been on. It was bustling with people. Men sat on makeshift benches in the shade of every hut, drinking homemade beer out of any container they could find (in some cases 5g gas cans). I shook every hand I saw, in the swazi way (hand-shake, hook thumbs, hand-shake) and showed off my 5 good words of siswati. We made our way to the veranda of the main house where most of the women were sitting. There was an old mattress on one side occupied by 2 bogogo (grandmothers), a reed mat on the floor with 3 more bogogo and a multitude of young children running around under foot. They cleared some room for me on the mattress and I greeted everyone one by one, and then sat with my most interested face on- pretending to know what they were talking about.
The view from the mattress was prime- and I really felt like I was in Africa. The crowd was a mixture of traditional meets modern. Most people were dressed in traditional wear. For the women this includes 2 square pieces of swazi printed fabric. One is tied over the left shoulder and the second tied around the waist. The men wear one piece of fabric around the waist, which is covered by an animal skin. The animal skins are a symbol of power and station, so every animal is different. They are bare chested, but wear a sash of beads, and typically a belt that holds “warrior” like things like knifes etc. they both wear feathers in their hair, the color and type depends on station and how close they are to the king on the family tree. Those who were not wearing traditional attire were wearing fancy skirts, hats and shoes and in most cases an oversized t-shirt. (ever wonder what happens to those t-shirts that get printed for the losing team at the Superbowl, or your old goodwill donations? They end up in Swaziland…).
We spent about an hour sweating on the old mattress, chatting (well them) in siswati, meeting everyone that walked by, and passing around a big bowl of homemade beer- which was actually pretty good, even though it looked like runny oatmeal. In the distance we could see movement from the wedding party, so we abandoned our perch and joined the crowd in the yard. Now I’m not really sure what was going on most of the time, but i’ll try and paint a picture.
The crowd formed a semi circle, as the wedding party marched towards the yard. There was about 40 women and 100+ men, all dressed traditionally, dancing in unison and singing traditional songs. The bride was dressed in a long piece of fabric around her waist, and was bare on top except for a huge fur that was draped over her shoulders. I’m not sure what this fur was from, as the hair was so long, it went from shoulder to waist. On her head she wore a huge feathered hat, that resembled a fur hat you would see in russia on a cold day. She was completely covered so you couldn’t see her face or much of her body, just her feet stomping in unison.
Part 1 of the wedding consisted of the warriors from the brides family (I think) trying to scare away the grooms family. Swazi weddings are full of drama, but its like a game. The brides role is to mourn her family, and act like she doesn’t want to leave them. She actually has to cry most of the day because she is being “ripped away” from her family. The grooms role is to “steal” the bride. The week before the wedding he will leave bags of meat at the brides families house, as a sign of what is coming. During the wedding the bogogo sit in front, and warriors take turns running up to them and trying their best to scare them away- they also do this to the crowd. No one is suppose to respond. Speaking, screaming, running away is a sign that the family wants to reject the wedding. Rinse. Repeat. Fast-forward 4 hours.
As the one and only white person at the wedding, I was essentially wearing a bulls eye for the festivities- despite my best efforts to hide in the crowd. Men ran full speed at me with clubs raised, screaming and would pretend to club me. They came and placed feathers in my hair – wiped mud on my face. A few put ema sweetie in my hair, or danced around me. Its hard to blend-in in Swaziland. I was beginning to feel bad I was getting so much attention. But with the attention from the wedding party, the guests also started to come over to me and asking to take pictures with me. They were armed with cellphones and film cameras from 1985. There was a point when there was actually a line to take photos with me. I felt like Mickey Mouse in some strange version of Disney Land.
When the sun was starting to set, Make found me and wanted to start heading home- not sure how- but we were going to try. On the road, a white car approached and literally circled us, while a group of young men hollered out the window at me. “Marry me! Marry me!” they shouted. I said I would consider letting them be my facebook friend if they gave us a ride, to which they directed us to their friends truck, and we hopped in the back. They took us half way to the main road, and then we started walking. After about 3 miles another truck came along and Make flagged it down. Despite the back full of empty beer bottles we hopped in. he drove us to the main road, and dropped us at a stesh. A kumbi eventually came, and Make convinced him to take us to the next junction. The sun was nearly set, and transport is rare after dark. So at the junction we managed to flag down another empty kumbi to take us to town. The driver was wearing a Chicago Cubs shirt… it was fate. In town, we were just in time to see the last kumbi leaving, but Make jumped in front of it, and managed to arrange an illegal pick up (max capacity) a few miles down the road- so we ran. The kumbi picked us up on the out skirts of town, and I sat on a drunk man’s lap, and made fun of him for drinking beer out of a sprite can. It was raining now, and the dirt roads were muddy, so we were going slow. About half way home we got a flat tire. By this point in time I feel like I have been on this kumbi for a century- having the same conversation with a new group of drunken men (end of the month, everyone gets paid- which means all the men of Swaziland are drunk). We finally made it home around 8pm, after traveling for 5 hours. The best part is we can actually see the homestead where the wedding was held from our home- we are just on top of a mountain.
This concludes my first swazi wedding, and confirms my pledge to my dear sister Bobbi, that I will not be getting married here in Swaziland. Lol.
not much to report here on the homestead, but I’m bored and feel like writing, so indulge me.
Yesterday was part one of my birthday extravaganza. My new friends have been very excited about this event for weeks. I spent most of the week baking cupcakes in a toaster oven 6 at a time, and frosting them with the most amazing coco frosting (YUM!) I also choose to forgo the pizza for BBQ chicken, to support my Make’s business. The day was complete chaos, but despite most of it having a swazi twist, it kind of felt like home. It went something like this:
8am- wake up- frost 3-dozen cupcakes
10am- sherlie (another PVC) arrives with her swazi buthi (brother) who apparently knows everyone in my family even though he lives miles away.
12am- prepare the chicken. Have you ever tried cutting a WHOLE frozen chicken with a dull knife? It was a cross between carving the thanksgiving turkey, and a slasher movie. I pretty much ended up tearing it apart with my bare-hands- which didn’t help the horror aspect of the event.
1pm- more Swazi’s arrive and invade my hut. A group of 11 year old girls sit on my floor painting their nails. The older kids are having a photo shoot with my camera. (I have 100+ photos of each child doing model poses in the same pair of shades). There are babies crying. Toddlers pulling every breakable item I own off my shelves. The song “I’m coming home” blaring, on repeat from my speakers. And I’m sweating like an 500lb obese man, oiled up sitting on a beach in Miami.
2pm- despite the fact Make has yet to return from town, we decide it can’t be that hard to cook chicken on an open fire. We successfully make a roaring fire inside the “kitchen” building, that has limited ventilation. I can barely enter the room without suffocating and going blind from the smoke. But I proceed to throw chicken parts on the grate sitting over the flames. They pretty much catch fire immediately, and I have to go back in with water to calm down the flames. I have now put on my amazingly large sunglasses, in attempts to shield my eyes from the smoke, and tucked my long dress into my underpants so the bottom doesn’t catch fire. I look pretty awesome as I dance around the fire trying to save the chicken armed with only a small salad fork and a cup of water. Sherlie comes to my (and the chickens) rescue and finishes the job with much more poise- I make french fries in the safety of my hut.
3pm- Make is still not home, but if Sherlie is going to make her kumbi home before dark, we have to eat. I have 2 plates, so everyone grabs some well-done meat and eats with their hands while standing around outside. I have somehow become in charge of a toddler (a pretty cute one), and am occupied with him completely, because as with most 2 year olds, he can find anything spill-able or breakable in a flash.
4pm- with my new 2 year old friend on my hip I walk Sherlie and her brother to the bus stop. Half way there Sherlie has to run back to get something she forgot from my house. The kumbi arrives with a surprise guest! Another volunteer has been waiting for the kumbi in her town for 4 hours and is just now arriving. She unloads and the kumbi pulls away, picking up Sherlie down the road. We walk back home, and I survey the damage of my hut- its a disaster- I must clean.
I still have custody of this child, so I strap him to my back swazi style so I can clean. I pile every dish I own into my basin and kneel on the ground to clean. Meanwhile there are still a bustle of children entering and exiting my hut, changing the music etc. Duhal (the PCV) is staring at me like she is unsure of what she just walked into, as I try to continue conversation like doing the dishes while rocking a sleeping baby on my back is completely normal- which ironically it didn’t feel all that foreign.
5pm- the baby’s aunt comes in and takes the sleeping baby off my back and lays him on my bed to sleep. A few mins later she enters with a bottle and asks if she can go to the store and leave the baby with me. Sure, why not. Me and my friend continue catching up as the baby sleeps next to us on the bed.
6pm- time for my friend to go home before it gets dark. Luckily the baby is waking up. I scoop him up and rock him for a little while (I love how snugly babies are when they wake up!) then the 3 of us walk back to the bus stop- I’m sure by this time everyone in town is gossiping about who’s baby I have stolen.
7pm- I am finally home in my hut, taking a cold bucket bath by candle light, listening to Ray Lamontange going over the sorted events of the day. All this party was missing was a drunken clown, a bounce castle and an area for adult beverages. Lol T.I.A.
The best present of the day was from my little sister Bulanda. She wrote me a letter:
“Dear the one I love,
Hi! I’m writing this letter to say happy 27th birthday. It is so greatful having you staying at my homestead. You are the best second sister I ever had in my life. It’s like you are my mother when she is away. I saw that you showed your whole love to me me, it is pure 100% true love. I wish you stayed in Swaziland with me for a long period of time. Just saying happy birthday Zethu have a long life and have successful birthdays to come. I love u baby girl.”
Is this not the cutest letter in the world? Swazi tear :*)
with the blessed day nearing, I have received a few requests from people stateside to provide a list of things I need/want here. The following items I will never have too much of
-envelopes/stationary, coffee (I have a coffee maker now, so any bag of coffee will be awesome), powdered creamer (french vanilla), gummy worms (or the like), granola bars (really hard to find here (I like traditional granola- not too loaded with chocolate- even better if its filled with dried fruit!), flavoring for water, anything that smells good (incense, candles, soaps, febreeze etc), deodorant ( dove “powder fresh” (the stuff here is strange, and really juicy… :p).
in addition to this list I have also been thinking about xmas- don’t worry I’m not getting greedy. I want to get my new brothers and sisters some nice things. Bulanda is 11 and would love a real barbie, and really needs some clothes. Hacheema is 16 and is obsessed with soccer, any jersey, ball, etc. Make (mom) is amazing, nice kitchen stuff for her (knifes, plastic plates/ cups, bowls, etc). There is also a women on the homestead who runs a salon, so I want to stock up on her nail polish selection (so far she has 1 bottle, so I have a ways to go)
from my blogs you may find yourself wondering, “what work does this girl actually do?” I am here to reassure you that I try.
Africans have a saying, and it’s called “African time”, Swaziland is no different and they too have “swazi time”. (they also have a “swazi stroll” I am currently trying to learn- for those who know my “chicago stroll” you can understand the challenge before me). Swazi-time often effects plans, meetings… lets just say time table in general.
After my COSPE workshop a few weeks ago, my OVC committee wanted to hold a meeting to talk about doing a community assessment, which is awesome, because I too have to do one for the PC. The day of the meeting arrived and was postponed for lack of attendance. I was disappointed, but was able to turn my bottled up impatience into a new role volunteering in the local clinic.
I am very lucky to have a clinic in my town, and a rather large one at that. I am currently working in the pharmacy helping to count meds (which given family and work history, I find pretty entertaining). This clinic is pretty well run, and even collects data on patients, which I hope to include in my community assessment including how many people in Tikhuba are living with HIV, taking ARVs etc. I am very optimistic about working with the clinic, plus its been fun listening to siswati gossip from the nurses 🙂
I have also been helping my Make with a self-started micro financing group. My Make is one of the most amazing women I have ever met. She is married to a less then dazzling husband, who a few years ago took a younger second wife, and basically abandoned his old family (except for when he occasionally shows up and needs money). Make usually works as a bus conductor, and is the sole bread winner of the homestead, but as of a few weeks ago her bus broke down and no one seems to know when or if it is getting fixed. In the meantime make has been busy trying to make ends meet. She wakes up at 4am and makes emafati (fried dough) which she walks around the street selling. She also embroiders cards (which many of you will be getting in the mail soon), to sell in the larger towns. Her main project is raising chickens which she sells to the local schools and businesses. She won a small biz grant last year from the government to buy 800 chickens, but has not received the money yet. He have developed a plan to start buying the chickens a bit at a time with a small group of women saving money together. I hope this will work, and make can get her chickens. In the meantime I will keep finding ways to help make sell things, even if that means eating 12 emafati every morning.
The PCV from g8 have also invited me to work with them on a camp GLOW (girls leading our world) project. This project is all about empowering young women, giving them self-esteem, courage and confidence in themselves (all of which are not standard practice here in swaziland). I am very excited to work on this project and should have more info soon!
It is true what they say about the peace corps being the hardest job you will ever love. Some days are challenging, others are so amazing. The PC’s mission is to “help people help themselves”, which is an amazing concept that I respect a lot. It also takes time to fulfill. It requires patience (which I am working on), and taking the time to gain the respect of those you are working with. So dedicated readers, until I have more productive things to write about, I will continue to do my best with entertaining you!