Something happened this week. Nothing specific, yet it was momentous all the same. It fact, it has been happening for a long time, but this is the week I noticed it.
The first trigger was when I got off the kombi one morning and ran into someone I knew – a Swazi, not an expat, or another volunteer. In fact, during the week, I have bumped into several Swazis that I know, each through different channels. I have walked with them, chatted to them, and sat with them.
The second moment of awakening came when I received an alarmingly beautiful text message from a friend in Australia, out of the blue. “Have been monitoring your journey in life and you amaze me everyday, a beautiful spirit indeed”. In fact, I was incapable of formulating a response which gave justice to how that message made me feel. That same day, I read good news from home that sent a wave of calmness washing over me. At the same time in Swaziland, I heard through a “source” that my supervisor, when asked about the new Australian volunteer, said “I want to wrap her up so she can’t leave”.
One afternoon this week, at Mahlanya markets, I bought some tomatoes off a woman. My few words of siSwati led to a very simple, yet understood, conversation in siSwati. This, in turn, led to the woman adding an avocado and onion to my bag, and offering me a milk crate seat next to her. This, in turn, led to three young boys taking a break from selling corn to sit down and teach me more siSwati while I waited for my kombi ride home.
On Friday this week, I spent the day with members of the Gone Rural Artisan Board, who were as happy to see me, as I was to see them. The fact that I was wearing a Shweshwe (Swazi skirt) brought all sorts of additional smiles and comments relating to “Makoti” (wife). Together, we took a tour of Swazi Secrets, a phenomenal co-operative that has more than 2,000 rural Swazi women collecting and cracking indigenous marula nuts to create all natural beauty products. The products are rated by Elle magazine as among the top 70 beauty products in the world, and the organisation beat 800 others to win an international award for sustainable development. http://www.swazisecrets.com
This weekend, I got to witness the Lutsango festival. I watched as thousands of married Swazi women walked, danced and sang their way down the street carrying reeds to the Royal Kraal. Then I made my way to Ludzidzini to witness them dancing in unison to traditional songs, such as “The men are stupid”.
Also this week, I found a supplier of fresh cow’s milk, and a source of fresh goat’s cheese. I went to a goodbye party for a beautiful friend, Daisy, celebrated by mountainous amounts of home-made Mexican food. I went to another dinner party for ex-Australian volunteers that were passing through. I spent my Sunday helping a stranger with her job application, before taking a walk past a herd of cattle being tormented by Barkly the dog.
Random events, seemingly unlinked. So what does it all mean?
At first, I thought it meant that I had reached a sense of belonging in Swaziland. After further reflection, though, I knew that wasn’t the case. I will never belong in Swaziland. Simply by virtue of my skin colour, I know I will never be viewed or treated the same as everybody else. Even some white Swazis, who were born and raised here, say the same thing.
Then I thought, fairly conceitedly, that perhaps these feelings were related to a sense of purpose, a purpose to bring light into people’s lives through my friendly nature and life-affirming work. Who am I kidding? As if my 2-minute siSwati conversation with the market seller made any difference to her life of poverty and hardship, apart from being a brief distraction.
I tossed around a few more ideas in my head, and although I still don’t have a definite answer, I think the closest reason I can come up with is that this week I have felt present. I have gone from viewing my journey through life as something like a speck of dust on the landscape, transient and inconsequential in the scale of space and time, to feeling more like a thread in a web. I am still transient, for the web will one day disappear; and I am still inconsequential, for there will be thousands of other threads that will make that web functional and probably just as beautiful. Yet without my thread, my presence, and the presence of each and every other thread, the web will be incomplete. Not necessarily better, or worse, just incomplete. I am meant to be here, now, at this moment, and so is everyone else.
This week, I worked out I was caught in a web, and it brought a massive smile to my face.