When a cow, or inkhomo (pronounced inn-co-moe), is slaughtered, there is a lot of meat. The meaty goodness is a carnivore’s dream. After everyone has had some meat, rice or porridge, and cabbage, bobabe (pronounced bo-bah-bay), or men, gather around dishes filled with more meat.
This past weekend when this happened, one of the men invited me to join them as they prepared to eat from the meat filled dishes. On these dishes was something of a Swazi delicacy. It was the cow’s head. The picture above is only half of the cow head meat.
I had heard stories about the sacredness of the cow head, how delicious it was, and how women are discouraged from consuming it. According to some beliefs, fertility problems might come to women who eat the cow’s head. I’ve also been told that eating cow head meat increases intelligence and virility in men.
I sat down with the men and we started to eat. There were no plates, no cutlery, and no napkins. There was a beautiful sense of community as we ate or half of the cow’s head. It I couldn’t tell you if I ate the cheek, tongue, neck, or other part of the cow head. I can guess that most of the meat was grilled, while some was boiled. What I can tell you (with certainty) is that whatever I ate, it was delicious. It was juicy and full of flavor. The cow head is probably the most flavorful and tender meat I’ve tasted since arriving in Swaziland. It did have a slight garlicky aftertaste, but it was nothing compared to the deliciousness.
Be kind to yourself.
Recently, I was fortunate to attend an event in my community known as Sibhimbi (pronounced see-bim-bee). This is the installation ceremony of a new chief. It’s a really big deal. Most of the people in my chiefdom (community) were there, and people even came from far away for the all day event. The king sends a representative from the royal family. It’s huge.
The week leading up to the Sibhimbi, I noticed that infrastructure was being arranged for something big. Large trucks worked to ensure that the gravel roads were level. School children took time away from school to remove trash from the side of the road. I was urged by community elders to make sure I was present at this event. One of the teachers at the high school explained all of the fanfare surrounding this event. He told me that these events rarely happen. He shared that he had never been to one in his life. He’s almost 40 years old!
He explained that once a chief dies, the position of chief typically passes to the eldest son. While the new chief may govern the chiefdom (unofficially) for years, it isn’t until the Sibhimbi that the new chief becomes official. Because there are so many people and resources involved, it can take years to organize. It is at this event that the new chief gets his late father’s shield, among other items. The Sibhimbi involves much singing, dancing and eating. For this occasion, at least 18 cows were slaughtered. This is in addition to all of chickens.
In the picture above, several men from my community sing and dance in full traditional dress to celebrate the installation of the new chief.
Be kind to yourself.
On one of my first runs in my community, I was greeted by several people who were out completing morning tasks. I stopped to exchange pleasantries in siSwati before continuing with the run. Some of the community members wanted to know who I was, and what I was doing in their community. This included a group of men hanging out at the local store.
As I ran past the store, one man yelled, “Uyagijima!”, which means “You are running!” I decided that I would stop to introduce myself to the group. Because my community is on the border with South Africa, it’s not uncommon for people to have business in both Swaziland and South Africa. I explained that I’m from the Washington, DC in the US, and that I’m a Peace Corps volunteer. We discussed my adjustment to the community and Swaziland, and how I was settling in.
After a few minutes of pleasantries, one of the men asked if I had a girlfriend or wife here. I informed them that I did not. They inquired as to why I hadn’t found a wife or girlfriend here. I told them that I wanted to get to know the community and focus on that. One of the men objected saying that I could not spend my time here alone. He explained that I needed the company of a woman at least a few times a month, and that he could assist me with finding a woman. I laughed, and restated that I wanted to focus on the community. Another man asked if the Peace Corps was a Christian organization, and if that was the reason I declined the gracious offer. I told them that the Peace Corps is not a religious organization, and that I really wanted to focus on getting to know the community.
In contrast to that conversation, I’ve found that my time in the community can be isolating. There’s quite a bit of time to be with yourself. There is time to think. There is time to ponder. After the encounter with the gentlemen at the store, I thought it would be nice to have some company. However, it’s also nice to discover new things in my community while meeting new people. I’m also thankful to have the support and friendship of other volunteers and others in Swaziland, and abroad.
Be kind to yourself.