Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Kingdom of Swaziland

One of the inconvenient things that interns have to deal with over here in Mozambique is periodically renewing our tourist visas. It’s a hassle, but it can be good time if you use the obligatory trek to the border to explore another country. This past weekend I took the opportunity to check out the beautiful Kingdom of Swaziland. I had never travelled outside of Maputo on public transportation before either so getting there was an experience in and of itself. I kicked off from work a little early on Friday and hopped on a chapa bound for Mbanane, the country’s capital and largest city. As we were waiting at the border for all of the passengers to go through customs I ran into a friend that works for CIDA here in Mozambique. She offered to take me the rest of the way to Mbanane which was fantastic as it was looking like we were in for the long haul at the border.

I was referred by many good folks to Grifter’s Lodge in Mbanane, which I must say has found a new place in Jared’s top three hostels of all time. It was never my intention for this blog to become a travel review site but, if you ever find yourself in the Mbanane area, seriously check this place out. Great people, great vibes, great accommodation. Within minutes I was hooked up with a tour guide for the next day and offered a cold beer to complete the day’s travels. I spent the night shooting the breeze and shooting stick inside the office/bar with the British owners of the joint and bunch of American Peace Corps Volunteers. These volunteers were savouring their one weekend off a month that they get from their rural assignments.

The next morning I met up with my tour guide, Mbuso, and we set off for our cultural tour of Swaziland. No matter what you do with Mbuso, whether it’s camping, hiking, fishing or exploring, he promises that you will do it “Swazi Style.” Unfortunately, the day that I choose to explore Swaziland was also the day that the clouds decided to sit right down on the mountains and refused to move all day long. Here I was in the most picturesque valleys in the country and, at times, I couldn’t even see fifty yards in front of me. No worries though, Mbuso just spent more time showing me the subtle beauties of the country’s people while the fog created a rather eerie atmosphere in the homesteads.

We actually started out by being unexpectedly invited to a Swazi funeral. They had buried the dead relative the day before and since had been partying all night and all morning long. Similar concept to the Irish wake I gather. They had all been drinking gallons of umcombotsi, which is the Swazi traditional home brew, and many were still passing around the container when we arrived. It’s extremely strong and leaves a very peculiar aftertaste. To be quite honest, I would have a lot of difficulty putting back an entire pint of the stuff if I were ever handed one at a bar. However, I gladly put it back in turn, much to the delight and the amusement of the others around the circle. Unfortunately, the weight of the loss to the household hung in the air and created a strange atmosphere of revelry and mourning. I didn’t want to feel like a tourist there anymore.

We then went to visit a Swazi traditional healer/medicine woman. She accepted us into her hut where she proceeded to tell me about her life and her role in the community. She told me about how she was both a Christian and a healer and how the missionaries had once used her to “minister” to the children of the village. She even showed me the difference between her traditional dress and the convent-style regalia that the missionaries brought to her. She wanted me to take a picture of her and her grandson because she had not had a picture of herself in many years so I eagerly obliged. She then proceeded to perform a traditional “reading of the bones.” This involved her taking a bag of bones, shells, coins and little pieces of wood, mixing in a bit of spit and mystery blue powder and pouring them out on the mat in front of us. From every one of the objects scattered around on the ground she was able to tell a story of the “ancestors”, which served as a mixture of Swazi folklore, proverbs and personal fortune telling.

Next came the party at the homestead where I was treated to some traditional Swazi cuisine, music and dancing. The women wore their colourful dancing attire and whistled, clapped and shrieked their way through their favourite Swazi songs. Even the girls as young as five and as old as seventy-five were out there putting on a show. I had lost track of Mbuso for a few minutes and then nearly fell on my butt from laughter as he came bounding out of the house in a full Swazi warrior get up to dance with the ladies. The girls then sang some of the AIDS awareness songs that they are taught in school. In the Swazi language, HIV/AIDS is called umbulalave, the world destroyer. Swaziland tragically suffers from the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world: 42% of the people in this country have the disease. Really think about that for a second. Of all the people you meet today, imagine if almost half of them had HIV/AIDS. That's the reality facing Swaziland today.

After exchanging many warm regards with my Swazi hosts, I returned to Grifter’s for a night of football, clubbing and a late night trek to a spectacular waterfall. My two days in this country convinced me that I need to return to see more of its natural beauty…and preferably not on the foggiest weekend of the year!! If anything it will provide me with another adventure the next time I need to have my passport stamped.


Blogger Ali la Loca said...

Hi Jared,

My name is Ali, I am also living and working in Mozambique, though I am here for an indefinite period. I have a background in international business and public heath; back in the US I directed an HIV/AIDS prevention program. Here in Chimoio, I am a consultant working in the agricultural and financial services sector with a company called Agrolink. Incidentally, we just finished a microfinance proposal...

Good luck to you. If you have a chance, I'd like to hear more about your work.


9:16 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haii.. Jared.. My name is afif.. I'm from malaysia.. And I stdy in south africa.. In this year 2012 is my final year.. So I'm thinking in march/april holiday I want to tour neighbour country mozambique and swaziland.. So can u surgest me anything?
Thank you.. :D

11:18 p.m.  

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