Ward told us that we would get a surprise when we went to Swaziland but we never would have guessed that meeting a bunch of Swazis around our age would be our surprise. As soon as we arrived at the theater, we could feel and see the Swazi culture. All of the people who were there to meet us were dressed in traditional outfits. I was very surprised when they told us that it was acceptable to wear their traditional clothing anytime and anyplace. They said it was viewed as formal attire much the same way we view suits.
I realized from meeting the Swazis that they have a lot of customs that we do not have. One of the girls, who’s name meant treasure, asked Devin to get up and show everyone how he would give Ward a phone if he was asked to. Devin just handed Ward the phone and everyone in their group laughed. I was very confused. I did not think there was any other way to give anyone a phone. Treasure showed us that when they give an elder a phone, or anything else the elder asks for, they get on their knees in front of the elder and give him the item. Now I was the one to laugh. It really made me realize how much more people in other countries show their respect to elders.
After we talked to them in small groups a bit, they performed dances for us, and they sang and played drums. Their dances were so powerful. The drum beat changed depending on the steps of the dance. There are a lot of kicks in the type of dancing that they do, and every time their feet hit the ground a very loud drumbeat would accompany it. That made the dance even more powerful and I was in awe. When the girls kicked, their legs went straight up and their feet were above their head. I could not imagine being able to do that. It was an incredible dance that had us all cheering loudly once it was over.
After they performed they brought us up on stage and we all sang “Shoshalosa” together and I had a lot of fun. Once we were done singing that song they left us alone on stage to sing some of our songs. We sang, “Lean on me”, “A Si M’bonaga”, and “We Shall Overcome”. They were excited during “Lean On Me” and half way through they started to clap and dance. It is amazing to see the excitement of the people we meet while we are singing. Then during “A Si M’bonaga” they were all singing along and cheering very loud and making sounds with their mouths that we are not able to make. The woman who ran the guesthouse we were staying at came up to the stage, making those sounds, and left money on the stage. Once we were done we said our goodbyes and headed out to the bus. Throughout the night our conversations all revolved around what we had learned during our interaction with people from Swaziland.
Today we went to a Swazi Cultural Center where we were exposed to different forms of Swazi dancing and singing. We were introduced to a man named Paul who taught us about traditional Swazi customs. These customs were very different than what I am used to at home in the U.S. To begin with, one of their customs was that the boys and girls would sleep separate from their parents once they reached the age of 6. Also, there were specific places around the village that either only allowed men and boys or girls and the woman inside. Another thing that struck me was that there was once the common belief in the Swazi-culture that if women ate certain foods, bad things would happen. For example, if women ate tongues then they would talk too much, if they ate feet they might leave their husbands, and if they ate brain they would become too intelligent.
Another thing that I found interesting was that men always exited the huts before women. The idea was that in the event of an attack, the men would go out first so that they could defend the women. However, the hut itself had its own form of defense. The huts were built of sticks and covered in grass, but the grass was weaved in a way that if they were under attack, it was almost impossible for a spear to go through from the outside, but even a small child was strong enough to push a spear out from the inside. This was a really cool defensive idea because if the hut was surrounded the only way that the enemy could enter was through a very low door, yet anyone inside the hut was able to attack the enemy from a comfortable standing position.
On top of seeing their homes and getting an understanding of the layout of their village, they also performed some of their traditional dances. When they first came out the feeling was different from the other dancers that we had seen. While the other dancers came out seeming more carefree and looking really happy about the opportunity that they had, these dancers seemed like they were simply going through the motions of it. However, after their first dance, when we erupted into a storm of applause, they finally loosened up and really got comfortable with us. After they performed several more dances, we were surprised to be called up to the stage. Not only did we need to sing in front of the dancers, but also in front of an entire public audience that was there to see the Swazi performance. This moment made me realize just how much music really can bring people together.
Today we went to a cultural village in Swaziland. As we walked in, I noticed the thatched roof huts around me, and the simplistic nature of the area. Our tour guide, Paul, was dressed in the traditional Swazi attire, a long draped wrap on top and a wrapped cloth on the bottom. I really got the feeling of the Swazi tribal culture.
We had the privilege of watching one of their performances. They performed tribal songs and dances. I was amazed by the dancers, who kicked their legs up swiftly, following along to the drumbeat, while performing in their traditional clothing. I felt the vibrations of the drums and could not glance away from the interesting, new, Swazi dance. At the end of their performance, we got up on the stage and sang our songs. We were a little hesitant at first, but as we sang “A Si M’bonaga” we noticed the crowd, especially the indigenous people, smiling and clapping along. We ended with “Shosholosa”. The performers joined us and we danced around while singing. They were so happy to see us singing, and the smiles on their face made me smile too.
After our adventure at the cultural village and shopping, we returned to our dwelling. When I came down for dinner, I noticed there were a few guests. Soon I found out that they were two musicians there to perform for us. One of them pulled out his guitar, he was the singer, and the other one was a rapper. The first song they sang blew me away. Their songs were filled with emotion and meaning. Their lyrics really struck me. They sang about war, love, Swaziland, growing up fatherless, and many other hardships people face in the world. The two musicians were so talented. Right after they finished singing I started to hum along to the tune. The songs were catchy and expressive. After they completed the encore, another man stepped up and recited spoken poetry. It started out as a goodbye and transitioned into a poem about memories. The way he delivered the poem was beautiful and dramatic. It was a wonderful ending to our evening and time in Swaziland.
We went to the Mkhaya Game Reserve yesterday. Our experience there was more than I expected. It was incredible to see all the animals I was looking forward to seeing, while also hearing detailed information from our driver. Trevor Tutu also shared information about the animals we saw during a conversation afterwards. I was ecstatic to see the zebras with their mesmerizing stripes and the rhinos with their long horns. The elegant giraffes, adorable warthogs, and swift wildebeests were an extra treat. The day concluded with an amazing performance done by traditional dancers and singers from Swaziland.
Today started out with a short bus ride to the House On Fire which is a small performance center, restaurant, Internet café and arts collective. The performance space consisted of a very eccentric theater filled with huge stone seats, and secret passageways to the balconies and sides. I was struck when I saw the looks of pure joy on my classmate’s faces while they ran around the area, discovering all the new excitement and adventures the little place held. After looking at a few small shops, we headed off to the cultural village where my class and I learned about traditional Swazi culture.
We had a basic understanding of Swaziland from what our teachers had told us about the country and we gained a bit more information from what the Swazi performers told us last night, but we had no idea about the depth of the rich history, culture and traditions of the Swazis. While the guide gave us a tour around the huts and other wooden structures a few of my friends and I talked about how this felt like a history lesson. Many of their practices, like using cows as dowries, and having multiple wives, are not something our culture is familiar with. While many Swazis no longer practice a traditional way of life, they still take great pride in their culture and history and some individuals have held onto certain practices. It was amazing and striking to know that even today some Swazi people live in a way that is so foreign to us.
After a shopping adventure at a craft fair in the afternoon we returned back to the guesthouse. We were surprised at dinner when a group of three young men joined us. I became intrigued with the man with the interesting hat, the man with a bright jacket, and the man with the six strings on his back. Ward, Curtis, and I began talking with them at dinner. Through our conversation I came to find out that they were poets and musicians. I told them that I also write music. They asked the classic questions about California, our school, and our trip, but we soon began talking about what they are interested in and their paths in life. Qibho (hat), Themba (jacket), and Sands (guitar) were very interesting, and I was excited when Qibho and Sands prepared to perform for us.
The second they started I was blown away. The voice of Sands and the raps of Qibho were mesmerizing and quickly drew everyone in. The songs they write are incredible and soon, everyone was singing along to the lyrics that were in English. After the performance we talked some more and found out that we share many similarities. We now plan to talk and share music we have written. I cannot wait to hear more of what they have done and hear their reactions to my music.
Connections like this remind me of how unique this area is. I am not fully qualified to say this as I have not traveled the world and sampled many other cultures different than mine, but I have never been in a place where relationships, connections, and trust are formed and strengthened so quickly. Jay was talking tonight about how these might be created quickly because we have no time to waste. This could be a factor, but I also believe that it is in the blood of the people here. So many people trust each other and lean on each other for many different reasons and there is a strong sense of community wherever I go. I envy the presence of this in the places we have visited, and I will definitely miss it when I head home. America has not quite acquired the caliber of community that we have experienced, but I do believe that it is on its way. A few small changes from every person could create a presence similar to the one that has been so strong on our class adventure.