Monday in a Picture – Ummiso and Sabaca (NSFW)

Last week, I was fortunate to attend a school dance competition. Schools from all over the Manzini region gathered to showcase their skills. 

Ummiso (pronounced oo-me-see) is a Swazi traditional dance performed by young unmarried girls. This tradition is rooted in the grand Swazi tradition of Umhlanga (pronounced oom-shlan-ga).

Sabaca (pronounced sah-bah-click c-ah) is a Swazi traditional warrior dance performed by boys and men. In each ummiso or sabaca performance, there is singing. Occasionally, there are drums. A fellow teacher explained that Swazis communicate and tell stories through songs. The songs sung during the competition are no different. 

I’m very proud of our students, and all of the hard work that they did to prepare for the event. They represented the school and the community very well.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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​Monday in a Picture – Incwala 

Today in Swaziland is a public holiday, as Swazis observe incwala (pronounced in-click wa-la), which is also known as the festival of the first fruits. 

The festival is a celebration of the king and his kingship. While the festival takes place over the course of several days, there is one main day. During this day, men and boys from all over the country do traditional dances and sing traditional songs with the king and his regiment in the royal kraal (pronounced exactly like “crawl”) at a royal residence in Lobamba. 

This year’s main day was Saturday. I was fortunate to attend the ceremony with some other volunteers. Immediately outside of the royal kraal, the king’s guards were lined up in uniform. Behind them was a small marching band in a different uniform. We noticed everyone moving towards the barricade, so we followed suit. The king was coming! Before the dancing and singing starts in the royal kraal, the band plays the Swazi national anthem and the king inspects his guards and their uniforms.

After the inspection, people are now free to pass through security and join the ceremony in the royal kraal. The rules are very strict for those wishing to enter. We were not allowed to take pictures of the royal kraal activities, wear shoes inside, or have any electronics with us. 

Once inside, all participants circle the king and members of the royal family while dancing and singing. While men and women are allowed to participate in the festivities (on the main day), people are separated by gender. For this festival, men drastically outnumber women. 

Before all of the ceremonies started, we were conversing with a group of men dressing for the ceremony. One of the men decided that I should adorn proper headdress. The picture above is him putting it on me.

Although we didn’t know the dance steps or the songs, the Swazi men and boys were extremely helpful and inclusive.  I am tremendously grateful for the hospitality that Swaziland, both individually and collectively, has shown.  

Happy Incwala Day! 
Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Stage Fright

​One of the things that has been required of us, as Peace Corps volunteers in Swaziland, is ongoing language learning. This makes perfect sense to me. As we learn more about Swazi culture and start to understand it better, language is key. 

I have found an amazing language tutor who is patient enough to answer my “but why is like this instead of like this” questions, and stern enough to correct me when I’m wrong (repeatedly). 

If I were to do an honest self-assessment, I’d say that my language skills have definitely improved since ending our pre-service training (albeit in miniscule increments). My language skills have improved dramatically since coming to Swaziland almost five months ago. At this point in my language learning, I’m able to semi-confidently hold a conversation with a preschooler. I’m proud of this. I want to be able to confidently have intense conversations with peers and boMkhulu (pronounced bo-mmm-koo-loo) or elder men/grandfathers in the community. I want to be able to understand jokes and be sarcastic in siSwati. I want to understand what folks are asking for when they come to my homestead. I would like to go a day without speaking English, but not be silent. My host make (pronounced mah-gay), or mom, recently told me that next year, no English will be spoken. SiSwati only. Of note: she told me when I first arrived that I must speak siSwati. “Sibusiso, you’re not in America anymore. We speak siSwati here.” 

I think I’ve identified what one of the bigger barriers is for me currently. Stage fright. My receptive language is definitely getting better. I can understand some of what’s said in small talk conversations on khombis (local mass transport vans). My expressive language is where my stage fright is the star of the show. I start to wonder if I actually heard what I thought I heard. Do I have the language to respond to that? Do I have enough vocabulary to keep the conversation going? Do I just want to use the fail safe phrase? Angiva (pronounced ah-knee-va), or I don’t understand. I guess the only way to overcome it is to keep practicing and understanding that failing doesn’t mean failure. After all, winning the World Series is impossible if you never step up to the plate and take a swing. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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28

During a WhatsApp chat last week, a volunteer in my group highly recommended that I read “28: Stories of AIDS in Africa” by Stephanie Nolen. As others in the group talked about the book, those same recommendations were echoed. I had been planning to read it at some point. I figured now was a great time for it.

I’ll start by saying that the book was very worthy of all of the praise and recommendations. Nolen, a Canadian journalist, wrote the book while living in Johannesburg, South Africa as The Globe and Mail’s Africa Bureau Chief. She manages to highlight various political and cultural issues intermingled with the stories of 28 people affected by HIV in Africa. As I progressed through the book, I was very excited because the stories gave me a better understanding of the cultural landscape across sub-Saharan Africa in general, and Swaziland, in particular (two people’s stories were from Swaziland).

There’s the issue of a lack of women’s empowerment. Several stories, including one from Swaziland, were about married women who contracted the virus from their husbands. In many of these stories, the married woman wouldn’t dare ask her husband to use a condom. This remained true even if the wife suspected or knew that her husband had multiple sexual partners. To ask him to use a condom would be considered disrespectful, and she risked being thrown out of the home.

Then, there’s the issue of transactional sex. Some stories prominently featured people who engaged in transactional sex for a myriad of reasons. Lack of money. Lack of food. Lack of transportation. Lack of other employment opportunities. Lack of skills. I have heard stories during my short time here in Swaziland about double orphaned (meaning that both parents are deceased) pubescent girls who are in charge of looking after their younger siblings. Because these girls often lack things like food and money, they become prime targets for transactional sex, and subsequently are at higher risk of contracting HIV.

Reading this book at this time in my life presents a unique perspective. I am a part of the western world’s response to AIDS on the continent. While I know that there are people in DC and around the world living with HIV, it’s much more “in your face” here in Swaziland. A part of the Ministry of Education curriculum includes lessons of HIV awareness, prevention, testing and counselling. Free condoms are distributed around the country as a part of the “Got it? Get it.” campaign. Many NGOs operate in Swaziland with expressed purpose of reducing HIV incidence (new infections). I’m excited to, hopefully, be a part of the solution, and to continue learning.
Be kind to yourself.
Onward.