I assume that most of you reading this are friends and relatives, though maybe not all, so I’ll go ahead and tell you that I lived in Swaziland as a child for several years. I think that was probably one of the most influential periods of my life; it certainly inspired a lifelong affinity for Africa and a real love of travel. After 18 years of being away, I finally had the opportunity to return to the mountainous Kingdom of Swaziland.
Even at the border there is a clear difference between these two African nations. Crossing from Namacha in southern Moz over to Lomacha in Swazi, was rather like a breath of fresh air. The roads are paved, there is less litter, the buildings are better maintained, people sport traditional garb, and English is spoken. I am not saying that Mozambique is worse for it, (well, maybe I am) but it was sudden opportunity to re-acknowledge the stark deficiency in infrastructure and development that heavily weigh on Mozambique’s shoulders.
But OH Swaziland!!! It was more beautiful and magical than I even expected. I felt an instant sense of being in more familiar territory. The landscape is dramatic – sweeping grassy mountains, foggy mornings and fields of organized agriculture. I remember several years back when I moved to Sonoma, California thinking that the landscape there really reminded me of Swaziland and Kwa-Zulu Natal. But now returning to Swaziland as an adult, I kept thinking that it reminded me of the striking Sonoma terrain (with a few more exotic animals thrown into the mix).
And so it was through this great surreal landscape that we made our way to the festivities. Christopher, Courtney and I loaded once again into a series of chapas, busses and finally hitchhiked our way to our next locale.
We met up with 10 other Peace Corps girls and their friends at the Sondzela Backpackers Lodge located in the Milweni Nature Reserve. Our house was surrounded by free roaming wildlife – zebras, warthogs, impalas, springbucks, and one particularly well-mannered ostrich called Eeeshhh.
Then we made our way to the Bushfire International Music Festival, and basically spent the next 3 days dancing and having a great time.
One thing that I really love and miss about Swaziland and parts of South Africa, is that people just walk around wearing a mix of western clothing and traditional garb. Not every one, but it’s certainly not out of the ordinary to see it.
The men in particular get to wear a dashing combination of fur head bands, patriotic fabric, leopard hide loincloths, beads, and sheep fluff. (I obviously don’t know the proper names for the parts of the costume.) Like all good fashion, it gets mixed up depending on the person and event, but it’s pretty awesome.
The festival was a multi cultural mix – with lots of focus on traditional Swazi music, arts and crafts. There were two stages, but the main one featured an array of different styles of Afro-jazz, pop, and gospel. Though none of us knew any of the bands, it certainly didn’t stop us from participating. Some of the highlights included the band Freshly Ground, the African goddess/singer Lira, and the funk-gospel band Ringo.
I got several funny though memorable comments while I was cuttin’ a rug. One went like this:
African man next to me: Are you Swazi?
Me: I just smile, furrow my eyebrows and don’t say anything.
African Man: You must be, because you certainly don’t dance like a Mulungu!!!
HAH! I laughed and smiled even more. I’m not exactly sure what he meant but I think it was in reference to how into-it we were getting. I wasn’t trying to dance like an African woman and I’m not naturally blessed with “Zulu booty” but still I took it as a compliment. Thanks?!
After three days of non stop dancing, story telling, people watching, nature walks, cold weather, rain, fog, mulled wine and lots of laughter – it was time to head back home. Christopher made his way back to Johannesburg to catch his flight and I started my 2 day journey back to Vilankulo.
I’m so happy that I got to share the experience of going back to Swaziland with Christopher. I have been waiting to return for years, probably since I left when I was seven, so part of me was nervous that the experience would shatter some of the idealistic memories I held from my youth. Needless to say, it was a really important trip for me and in many ways felt like a homecoming. I don’t know if I told him enough, but I was so grateful to have my friend there from home to validate and share the experience with. Every stop along the way, from Vilankulo to Bushfire was memorable. It was a trip of a lifetime.