Saturday, November 17, 2012

Dorothy behind the counter taking pictures
Box of Condoms
Picture by Dorothy

We were on our way to Swaziland.  The entrance at the border was a piece of cake. Swaziland is a monarchy and there were pictures of the king and the queen mother up on the wall in the immigration office.  Dorothy, an avid photographer, was trying to take a picture of it and could not get a good shot, much to the chagrin of waiting truck drivers she was invited behind the counter to get a better shot.  They also thought it very comical when she took a picture of the box of condoms that was prominently displayed. HIV/AIDS is a terrible killer in Swazi, we read some stats that said of a population of 1.1 million there were 200,000 children who were orphans. 

Myxo, he has been growing his hair for 16 years
I was reading our copy of the Lonely Planet and found a cultural experience that I thought would be worthwhile. We were met the next day in Manzini by a gentleman named Myxo. The first thing he did was teach us some SiSwati/Zulu phrases. 
Doesn't Barry look like he's having a good time!
We practised as we tasted sorghum, a breakfast meal with the same texture as cream of wheat, it is fermented corn and with some sugar, it was quite tasty.  Afterwards we headed to the craft market to practice our unfamiliar words, the language has weird tongue clicks and they slur their h’s by putting their tongue on the top of their mouth with their bottom jaw open and blowing out, it sounds a bit like an s, very difficult for us North Americans. After purchasing a few more potential Christmas presents we headed up into the hills to a village.  
I just look a little goofy in this traditional Swazi outfit, but isn't the girl beside me lovely

We drove up over a very bumpy gravel road and were greeted with a vista of green fields, with small clusters of buildings huddled together on the hills. Each cluster was a family group, the grandparents would have a hut, the children live with their parents until they are old enough to joins the boys and girls hut, at adolescents, the sexes are separated, once a young man starts working he would help to build his own hut, there is a cooking hut, a place for the chickens, goats and a pen for the cows. Most of the huts in the village were traditional, mud and rock walls with thatched roofs, if a man is successful in finding a paying job, he would build his wife a brick house with a tin roof. 
A family grouping

We stayed in a traditional  home, there was a nice mattress with only a candle for lighting, very romantic.  We were fed maize, beans, a spinach dish and chicken all cooked on an open fire for supper, it was delicious. 
Our home for 24 hours, the gogo hut!
There was no running water or electricity so Barry very reluctantly had to use an outhouse, but it came with a view (there was no door on it). The tour of the school was the highlight of the trip, the preschoolers were lined up and sang us the Swaziland national anthem as well as “this little light of mine” we were all grinning at them as they sang with enthusiasm. Bongani otherwise known as Bobo took us over to the headman’s compound and we got to meet the grandmother or Gogo.  There is a hut in each family unit that is known as the Gogo hut.  This is neutral ground, if you have a problem you meet in the hut to sort it out, if you want to talk to your ancestors, into the Gogo hut. The best use I heard for it was when the kids are in trouble with their parents, they run to the hut and hide, neutral ground!! We had some marvellous conversations and learned about the SiSwati culture in a far more meaningful way than if we had gone to a museum. you are interested in contacting Myxo go to

We booked the experience at the last minute so we weren't quite sure what we were getting into.  I was completely happy with what unfolded, but the other three had different expectations, for me it was a chance to relax and unwind at the end of a rushed, thrill packed trip.
Cat’s-Paw IV survived our absence and we are planning on leaving tomorrow to head south to Durban or East London.