Emails From Africa Which Inspired This Blog – Part 2

Hello all!

Swazi, my new favourite word to say. What a beautiful country, in fact this part of Africa is mountainous, green, majestic rivers, plains and views for miles and miles. Swaziland is the size of New Brunswick and is the smallest remaining kingdom in the world. The kingdom is 40 years old, and was a British colony when its king went to Queen Elizabeth and asked for it back. The king is a player of sorts, lol, with 11 wives. We drove past the royal palace (a large compound with thatched roof houses) and it has a soccer field in front. Each wife has her own home around the main home with a flagpole in front. My theory is that a flag is flown at half mast when he’s with her but I’ll find out for sure. Ok, so it’s actually a lightning conductor due to the thatched roofs but I like my reasoning better.

Upon entering Swaziland we went to a village whose family has entered and won contests worldwide with their singing and dancing. We were led around by a young man whose birthday it was and who very flamboyant in nature. That led to a very interesting discussion with our guide later. The young man was the chief’s son and had 14 brothers and sisters, the eldest being 33, he was 26 and his youngest sibling was 6 months old. He and his siblings had two mothers and the child do not find out who their real mother is until they are married. I did not ask but presumably there are two mothers because raising 14 children is too difficult for one. The second wife is the one who does the cooking and the grandmother raises the children from the age of 2 to 12 so the parents go to work in the fields, villages etc. As for the accommodations, the grandmother has her own hut, and in the other hut the women and children sleep on the ground on animal skins and the children sleep with the mothers. During sexual encounters it is ensured the kids are asleep, the women crawl on their knees to the men, the “job”, as they call it, is done and the men leave. The men enter any hut first and go to the right side and the women stay to the left.

I was chosen by the chief’s son, lucky me, to try on the outfit that the young women wear who are single and of marrying age. I was wearing a dress but you can get the idea. The “skirt” is about the width of a wide belt, has shiny coins on it and I would be very lucky to have it even cover a third of my bum, and half of me in front. The “shirt” is a one shoulder top, with what looks like different coloured mop heads and the left breast is exposed. There is no playing around when it comes to finding a husband and wife. Next we were privy to the dance and songs that are done to entice each other. They are extremely sexual, lots of tension and they dance the act out. Men and women who are single kick their legs high in the air, dance around, kindly expose what’s under their skirts, although covered up underneath. The music is deeply tribal with hard beats and I believe most of the women in our group, myself included found it hard to look at the men because the men in the village seemed intent on adding us as wives as they stared deep in our eyes. I laughed nervously but I was intent on not offended anyone. At the end they wanted us to join and dance and the lead male came straight to me. I am rarely uncomfortable but I couldn’t look at him and I wasn’t ready to become a submissive Swazi wife.

A fantastic performance and a memorable time, don’t get me wrong but wow, the way men and women court in Canada is child’s play.

The chief’s flamboyant son went for the gay guy in our group and we all had some laughs later on. As for the discussion of homosexuality, it was apparent the role this man played in the group was both skilled and entertaining, his mannerisms were feminine and I don’t believe he’d be expected to marry but our guide said he’d be excommunicated if he doesn’t. I believe he is loved, accepted and popular but his sexuality is not acknowledged.

Next we continued past some incredible scenery and drove into the capital of Mbabane which surprisingly so was more cosmopolitan than I thought it would be. There was a Woolworth’s, a KFC, it was more multicultural meaning black, mixed black and white and white ex-Pats who lived in gated communities with security bars on their larger homes and barbed wire fencing. Much like when I lived on the Beaches resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands (btw, an incredible wedding/honeymoon and scuba diving destination). Girls were still talking about fashion, teenagers were still milling around the mall, overall interesting but not by a lot.

After more driving we went to Ezulwini Valley (Valley of Heaven) and went to a kilometre long market and did some shopping. That reminds me, it is so…cheap here. Full meals cost $5-$10 (in South Africa as well), wine, vodka etc is $5-$7.50/btl (will be ignoring the customs allowance Canada allows us to some degree), tipping is equivalent to $2-$3 for service, park rangers, etc.

Finally we got to Hlane National Park where we would stay for the night. We had huge chalets to ourselves, each with 4 bedrooms, and kitchens and I had my own room. We had a fantastic dinner, another show and a bonfire and went to sleep. The hippos outside our chalet in the pond were gorgeous, the baby was the cutest and the family of warthogs (adults and three small babies) constantly running through the field, posing for photos, running back the way the came and repeating it for an hour was adorable. These were wild animals and yet they were behaving as they were supermodels on a runway, we were all greatly amused. Think Pumba from the Lion King, adorable!

This morning we woke early (walks at dawn and dusk are when the most is seen) and went on a 2.5 hour hike trekking rhinos. I’ve gotta tell you, I have very little fear ever since I find myself surrounded w sharks when I dive but even my adrenaline got pumping a bit when we found ourselves between a female and her baby and two other females. I have photos of me with them 15 feet behind me and the threat of a violent end was very real. But, the fact of the matter is, is that rhinos are almost blind and rely on sound. If they charge you remain still and beat the ground with a stick and they stomp off, kick around and act like a child that doesn’t get their way. Yes, they also kill a lot of people but mostly when you endanger their babies. We also saw a two month old baby, so cute. The only time our ranger was nervous was when we were walking up a dirt road and mothers and baby elephants were crossing in front of us. One of the babies went ahead and crossed, the mother stayed on the other side and she started calling to it to come back. We were, in her mind, close enough to be a threat. Our guide had us jog out of the situation, the only time it is acceptable to run. A day I will never forget, the experience and proximity to animals was unbelievable.

This is such an incredible country, beautiful, stunning and so, so poor. We stopped at a roadside village (with maybe five families) where they literally live in huts in appalling conditions, so many people are dying of AIDS there, cemeteries growing in size each week, literally you can see the fresh ground being dug, kids sick, baboons stealing babies in the fields and eating them, no word of a lie.

No water, no electricity and in breeding like you’ve never seen. We handed out clothing as kids ran naked to our vehicle, demanding everything and we gave out more school supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soccer balls and toys. So many of them were mentally retarded as they are truly breeding within their tiny village. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Children sweating from malaria and dying each week, one boy had me worried. Our guide said he used to give out mosquito nets but he’d come back and they were using them to fish. Let me tell you, hand sanitizer has been a good friend of mine and I think I’m crying an average of 5x per day, even writing about it makes me start again.

The anger I feel about what is being done and not being done by myself and others is immense and when we get home we shut it out and move on.

We crossed back into South Africa to get to Mozambique and we get to the border shortly. Lots more has happened today but I’m spent. The next two days are beach days on the Indian Ocean and the scuba diving is supposed to be some of the best in the world (Scuba Diver magazine tells me so) and I need to get my tan on, I am in Africa after all. Whale sharks (the holy grail) are supposed to be easy to find and seen daily. I hear they were with schools of lemon and hammerhead sharks yesterday so I’ll be doing three days of diving and a night dive tomorrow, this is what I have been waiting for on this trip.

Hope my Blackberry works in Mozambique so I can send the third installment. Can’t wait to see you all. Much love. JEM

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