‘Spring’ Break: Swaziland! (Bung-a-low! Bungbung-a-low!)

Lekker star!

All the dutch people on our holiday trip …. they spoke dutch… non-stop. And Dutch is similar to Afrikaans… and out of everything we’ve (alana and i – and other international students) heard in afrikaans- for months now – we’re just still not so great. so out of the entire trip with all these dutch speaking people, “lekker” was about all i took away from it. it means nice. or basically anything you wnat it to mean… that can be good or nice or cool. so brian – the guy i met at Cape Pride – and I … we started saying LEKKERSTAR! like… rockstar… but not. anyway, we’re lame. haha

so after st. lucia and the safari at Umfolozi, we headed over to Swaziland. Here’s my journal entry about getting there and our first bit of time there:

Swaziland is spectacular. It’s like, well, being in a foreign country 🙂 No more Eurerica in Africa. The majority of the trip to our camp was laced with small villages – huts – actual straw and wood huts, clotheslines, self-run small goods stores. We had to slow at one point to let a donkey cross the road. We, Americans, I think, tend to have the view that anything undeveloped is underdeveloped and sort of primitive, ancient, poverty-stricken. May i romanticized the lush, green countryside, but to me it seemed simply a different way of life – a simple one – one where machines don’t run everything. People do. It would be hard, perhaps impossible, to find that sort of genuine village life in America – perhaps the Amish. It really is gorgeous here, though, so amazing. If “nature” were a distinctive odor, like gas – petrol or baking bookies – Swaziland would own it. Everything smells so natural, so fresh, from the donkey dung on the side of the streets to the summer-fresh grass. The air, too, it smells…. untouched, like humans haven’t had the time to mess it up.

We’re staying in bungalows here. Real, true hut bungalow things. They are spectacular. Besides spoiling us with beds and showers, they’re also quite picturesque. It’s kind of dome-shaped, with straw and wood… very spacious, too. Ours has a tiny door – kind of like the Dwarf door at the Dward House.

…Tomorrow we’re doing a “cultural village tour” and then have a free afternoon. I’m looking forward to the downtime. I’ve had a bit of a cold, and I had a breakdown in a supermarket we stopped at.. when I couldn’t read any of the medicine bottles and the people working there couldn’t understand what I needed. But moral of the story? When sick – you want medicine you know, so always bring it with you!

****

Then, from later – still in Swaziland:

“Umpagati” = |It is the chief’s homestead” — Swazi

I can still hear the singing of the “cultural village” people in the restaurant from my bungalow. Today has been all about seeing ‘real’ Africa – the tribal part. I’m frustrated today with safaris, with westerners, with Africa, with the tribes, er, wait, cultural village people. I’m frustrated because in all the exotic, amazing sights I’ve seen today, I only see African culture commodified, exploited for western tourists. It’s all for-profit, exploited vestiges of what probably used to be a rich, fulfilling, unique culture of the Swazi people. All day I’ve cogitated over the effects of tourism on African tribal culture. I should do some research on it. Without research, I haven’t been able to conclusively decide wehtehr tourism is keeping the tribes/villages alive or whether it’s destroying through explitation and possibly even inflation, the cultures. Even if it’s helping them survive financially – it’s making them out to be something they’re not – i’ts turning real lifestyle into performance. It’s playing on western stereotypes of what africa “should” be.

Let me back up. We went to the village early this morning – spent a few hours there. All the ladies – we each got a traditional wrap/skirt type thing that we wore while we were there. The person in charge – not the chief – was a woman. Oh she was incredible. She has such as strong presence and voice. The men showed polite deference to her. It is clearly evident htat she is the leader and no one questions her authority. She was a total rockstar – rock on with matriarchy. They taught us a few Swazi phrases (that I have already forgotten) and some tribal dance steps that we all attempted to perform. They showed us some of the “womens duties” and then some of the “mens duties.” There were children everywhere, the entire time. The village is also an orphanage, housing hundreds of children. I loved them and wanted to take two or three of them home with me – mainly just this one boy – one of the youngest. I had a great time with the kids and learning the bits and pieces of that culture. After all that stuff, they laid out all their work, curio stuff, and sold it. I bought a few things… and it was all beautiful, but it was just so…. so touristy. I dont’ know. It just frsutrated me, but I’ve already said all that.

Tonight we saw a “tribal dance” performance. Again – it was such a show and not an authentic part of their culture, at least not now. I could tel lthe entire time that some of them didnt even know the exact steps – they watched the feet of hte person next to them. They were performing their identity, for money. They had a bowl out in front, that people put money in. Some of the dancers even took around a bowl with them as they danced. They waited afterwards and took pictures with all the tourists to get more money. Once I began to see it as a theatrical performance, I really enjoyed it. They’re talented, and the show was spectacular. Afterwards, the entire ‘cast’ went and got beers at the bar, ditched the ‘traditional’ garments… just like a cast party after a show haha I just feel like tourism is starting to ruin something so true and natural and amazing, and thats heartbreaking.

Anyway – enough negative sue. (sue?) swaziland, overall, is amazing, and i’m glad that i’m grappling with these issues. I want to learn more about whats happening with tourism and these tribes in Africa. This will be incentive for me to go back and do the research.

*****

and now – pictures:

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Published in: on May 9, 2008 at 12:51 am  Leave a Comment  

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