Highlighting Hospitality in Swaziland

I made this video for the 2017 Peace Corps Week video contest. The theme for this year is “Highlighting Hospitality”. Enjoy.

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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​Monday in a Picture – The Head

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. 
Onward. 

Monday in a Picture – Sibhimbi

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. 

Onward. 

Different different, but same.

There are certainly some things that definitely remind me of home here. There are some gender roles and expectations that I’ve seen before.

Typically, I am not involved in the cooking process. I suspect that this is because I am a man. Women and children, usually girls, prepare and serve meals. Here, at my training home site, my sikhoni takes the lead on most of the cooking. This past weekend, she sent in one of the children with sour porridge for breakfast. This was followed by an egg scramble and porridge some hours later for lunch.

As I was doing my laundry this past weekend, I was nudged to give it to one of the children for them to do it. I resisted the temptation. I decided that it would be best for me to learn hand washing, and perfect my technique. There was a compromise that I would let one of the children assist me. I was very thankful because laundry takes much more time and energy than it ever did in DC. After completing my laundry, I asked one of the children if there was a nap culture in Swaziland. With a confused look, he asked what a nap was. I explained that it was a period of rest in the middle of the day. He promptly replied that they don’t do that. I told them that I would sleep for one hour, and then come back out to continue the day.

Upon returning from one of the PST sessions this week, my sisi (pronounced see-see), or sister, asked for my dishes, so that she could wash them. I told her that I had already washed them. She asked if I was sure. I told her that I just had my lunch dish from today. She asked for it. I told her not to worry about it, and I would take care of it. She relented.

While patriarchy is prevalent in both the United States and Swaziland, I can see that it certainly more pronounced here.

This just reminds me of the idea that we are more the same than we are different. Babe (pronounced bah-bay), or father Sheba is one of the training staff in PC Swaziland. He has said several times that we are all going to the same place. It’s just that some of us get there before others. I believe this to be true. It’s all same same, but different.

Of note, in Swazi culture, any father/married man/man old enough to be your father is referred to as babe. This is done out of respect. The same applies for any mother/married woman/woman old enough to be your mother. She is referred to as make. Anyone who is your age, regardless of relation, is referred to as bhuti or sisi. The Swazi culture is a very communal one. Because of this, I feel very welcomed.

I feel the presence of my aunt Nae when I’m at home with my make. We often sit in make’s house and watch the news (in sis-Swati). Whenever King Mswati III is discussed and/or appears on television, she speaks of him very highly. She sounds like a mother who is proud of her son’s accomplishments. This is super similar to some weekday evenings spent with Aunt Nae watching the evening news. Aunt Nae’s version of King Mswati III is President Obama. She absolutely loves him. (Side note: if this post ever makes it to Mr. President, she would love a visit from you – and it doesn’t matter if you’re still in office)

It’s quite often that I feel that the Swazi people have accepted me as one of their own. One evening, while showing my training host family pictures of my family in America, my bhuti looks at my Uncle Pat and says that there is no way that Pat could be in America because he saw him last week in Matsapha (a town in Swaziland). I laughed. Though, it is completely possible that my uncle could just show up.

Onward.