The time to swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers, move to our permanent site and actually start on the work that we will spend the next two years of our lives on is inching steadily closer. Today is the end of our last full week as Trainees, next week we will spend in a High School teaching a life skills class and our final LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) test. Although we are ecstatic to move on we are more than a little bummed to leave our Make and our homestead (plus our TV and our sweet digs). Training was integral because mostly because we made our first (and hopefully only major) cultural faux-pas and got over most of our culture shock while in a temporary setting. Next stop is a clean slate with a little more experience and SiSwati under our belt.
With all of the challenges that came with integration came some of the most endearing life lessons and discoveries that come with diving head first into a new culture. Last week was one such occasion. As we have mentioned before, Make is a widow whose husband died last year. As part of traditional Swazi custom Make has been wearing a black shawl and black clothing for the past year. Friday (coincidently the observed holiday of Lilanga Lisilo, King’s Day), was the one year anniversary of her husband’s death. This occasion was a huge deal for Make, one that she had been planning for and talking about ever since we met her. I will try and go through it step-by-step, knowing there is a lot that I am unaware of or that was lost in translation.
Sunday: The Khumalo clan arrives from Johannesburg, S.A. Make has six children who are all, quite possibly, the most stand-up people we have ever met. Each looks like and shares similar quirks and expressions similar to Make. We had so much fun spending time with them and working side by side with them in preparation for the ceremony.
Monday-Wednesday: The Homestead was a hive of activity. As soon as we got home from class we were put to work chopping down trees to make tent poles for the extended awning that acted as a tent for visitors, killing chickens for dinner and baking hundreds of scones for all the tea that out of town visitors were about to consume.
Thursday: While we were at school Ctello and various Khumalos/neighbors slaughtered a cow. By the time we got back the cow was splayed out in the krall (pen) with its intestines and organs on full display. As disgusting as it sounds it was actually a pretty cool anatomy lesson. Most of the massive cavity of a cow is made up of its four stomachs. Who knew? One thing about Swazi’s is that they let nothing go to waste. I helped bring in kidneys, intestines and various other unnamed organs that were eaten throughout the ceremony. Keeping with my animal slaughtering streak, I helped kill and skin a goat. That is a little more intense than killing a chicken.
That night Make went with a group of bomake and bogogo to the krall to sing and pay respects to the ancestors (who according to Swazi culture live and hang out there). At some point, and this is where I get fuzzy on the details because we didn’t see any of it, Make bathed in a mixture of water, cow and goat blood, burned the shawl she was wearing and put on civilian (non-black) clothes.
Friday: The Khumalo Homestead was hopping! People from all over Swaziland/S.Africa showed up to pay their respects to Make and Babe Khumalo. Make had been making “King’s Brew” all week and Friday it was passed around and consumed in massive quantities. Everything we heard about Swaziland being a largely non-drinking country were thrown out the window with every drunk bobhuti, bogogo, bobabe, bomakulu and bo-everyone throwing down in heroic capacities. Being a non-drinker, something stuck out to me. There was a clear bifurcation between those who drank and those who didn’t. Those who did drank to absolute obliteration and those who didn’t, didn’t even touch a drop. Suddenly, Peace Corp’s alcohol stance made a lot of sense.
To contrast the revelry outside, the night vigil inside was a solemn contrast. Around 11PM things got rolling inside. The house was packed with bomake, two preachers and a group of youth from a local congregation that served as a sort of hired spiritual muscle that sang and rounded out the worshippers inside. I thought Swazi church was long, with three hours of preaching and singing in a language I don’t understand, the Night Vigil was a marathon. The service went from 11PM to 7AM when they left to uncover Babe’s grave and pay final respects. We went to bed around 2:00 AM.
As the revelry went on outside, the festivities continued outside and party-goers did not stop until Saturday night. Unfortunately, we missed the feast that happened during the day, but the amount of beef we have consumed in the past two weeks is a testament to how much food was prepared.
We count ourselves very lucky to witness such an important part of our Make’s life and be there for a traditional Swazi ceremony. Although, the party aspect made us scratch our heads at times, everyone was incredibly friendly and I had mock LPI’s with countless drunk bobabe and bobhuti who loved the fact that I was trying to speak their language.
In our next post we may be writing as full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers writing from our permanent site in Mpaka!