Are you missing me yet? I’m not surprised, since the Sunday just passed (17 March) was exactly one year since I left the sunny shores of Australia to spend two years in equally sunny Swaziland. While such a milestone begs for inebriated celebrations, I am in the midst of a 6-week dry spell so had to find alternate ways to celebrate. Apart from the usual dinner out, dinner at someone else’s home and dinner party at my home, I also took the opportunity to head to kaNdinda community for a sod-breaking.
Late last year, Rosecraft (a handicraft company that operates near kaNdinda), approached Gone Rural boMake with funding from the VOSS Foundation to implement a water project. In a very progressive move, the Ministry of Health representative of the area demanded that homesteads be equipped with sanitation facilities before any boreholes were drilled. So, in the past few months, my amazing Water and Sanitation colleague, Nhlanhla, has been working with 100-odd homesteads to build composting toilets, as well as foot-powered, water-saving “Tippy Tap” hand washing facilities. With that complete, he now begins the task of drilling 5 boreholes stretching across 3 tinkhundla (local government areas). That’s just the first phase!
With almost 90% of our artisans from around this area being forced to use water from rivers that livestock like to use as their toilet, there was a lot of excitement about this project. So much so, that the community chose to fundraise to host a sod-breaking event. Our organisation matched what they raised, and the result was fantastic.
In true Swazi fashion, activities got off to a 90-minute late start. This was due to the delayed arrival of the event’s main attraction, the (rather handsome) Chief of kaNdinda. Also present were the Chiefs of two nearby tinkhundla, the local MP, a representative from the Ministry of Health, Development Commission, men, women, children and……. Swazi TV. Yes, folks, my luminescent white skin finally shone brightly on the nation’s screens on Sunday night.
After we watched the Chief break the sod, we sat down to listen to a number of surprisingly short speeches, punctuated by entertainment from the community. The imbali (maidens) shocked us all with their amazingly high leg kicks. The young boys shocked us all by brazenly singing and pointing to the Chief saying “Don’t do anything naughty”. Finally, the lutsango (women) shocked us all by singing “The men are all drunk at the shabeens, while the women keep the homes in order”. Controversial words for an audience dominated by men.
Watching and hearing these performances really brought home the pleasure that singing and dancing brings to people here: It’s not a passive display to benefit the audience, but rather an incredibly interactive exhibition where audience members randomly jump in and dance, or drop fruit and money on the heads of exceptional performers, or hit their shields and knobkerries to the ground to show their appreciation. It is a time for people to sing what they feel. It is invigorating. It is unifying. It is fun.
Perhaps naively, I had expected to attend the day in no greater capacity than as unofficial photographer, yet as festivities were drawing to a close I was called up to present gifts to the Chiefs and, later, shake all their hands. I attribute my traditional Swazi attire to the fact that the Chief of kaNdinda commented that I was more attractive than him, and that the Indvuna of kaNdinda (second in-charge to the Chief) vowed to take me as his wife. We are yet to negotiate cows.
We then sat down as the women in the community dished up a pile of samp and beans, rice, potato salad, coleslaw, green salad, pumpkin, and fried chicken that I’m guessing would be enough to feed an entire homestead under normal circumstances. The meal amazed me – not because of the excessive quantity, the diversity of dishes, or the deliciousness – but because the women had wanted to save their money and slave over a hot fire to provide it for us. Community ownership.
As we got in the car to return home, my colleague Louise turned to me and asked me if this is what makes leaving your friends, family and home worthwhile. One year on, I’d say she’s hit the nail on the head.