The warm breeze was stroking my hand that I had stretched out towards the sun out of the car window. We passed endless fields and big blue skies that made the horizon seem further away than ever. It looked like someone had taken brushed over the landscape in all different shades of gold, orange and caramel brown with light hints of green remaining. After more than eleven hours of sitting in the tiny seats of a crowded airplane, the cab seats resembled a couch to me. The flat ground turned into the soft curves of hills and then into the edgy slopes of mountains the more time passed. It was easy to notice that we were finally reaching Swaziland.
Never could I have imagined that I would find myself in this beautiful and tiny kingdom at the South of the African continent this summer, but, sometimes things just simply happen for a reason. The kingdom of Swaziland is one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies, with the king ruling by decree over his million subjects, most of whom live in the countryside and follow traditional ways of life.
I spent the first two nights at the Waterford Kamhlaba UWC, absorbing the many differences and similarities it has in comparison to Li Po Chun UWC. The campus has a beautiful location, offering a magnificient view of Mbabane, the largest city of Swaziland, at night. But it is not only the lights of the buildings that are shimmering during that time, the sky is even more awe-inspiring. I do not remember the last time that I saw this many stars dotting the black canvas of the night sky like little diamonds. And I definitely do not remember the last time I was able to see the milky way form its dim band over my head. Unlike at Li Po Chun, students at Waterford UWC stay in single rooms and there are both day students and boarding students. The campus itself is significantly larger than LPC, resulting from both the fact that the school has a higher number of students and that there is much more land available in Swaziland than it is in Hong Kong. I absolutely loved the Waterford campus and its surrounding nature – I deeply wish I could see more UWCs (and put this wish on my already endless bucket-list)! 😀
My days in Swaziland concluded with a stay at a friend’s house (Mikayla from Swaziland) Amidst the cultural enrichment the short but sweet stay in Swaziland came with many surprises and so I was able to witness a bottle-raised goat which seems to believe it is a puppy (tail-wiggling and going on walks included) and three hilarious and almost cartoon-character like dogs that always got us to smile. Mikayla and her family were the kindest hosts and I am more than excited to see her soon! (You will find out where and why in one of my next blog posts) ;
We hopped into her jeep and drove to the Mantenga Cultural Village and Nature Reserve in Manzini, a tranquil, thickly forested reserve in the mountain slopes. It is famous for its Swazi Cultural Village, a ‘living’ cultural village with authentic beehive huts and cultural displays. We decided to first see the Mantenga Falls nearby, that were just a short walk away from the sandy area in which we parked the car. The sight of the waterfall was stunning, with the water drizzling over the rocks and forming a shimmering pool at the bottom that was reflecting the earthy brown tones of the nearby rocks and the crisp green of the leaves that were peeking out at it. We sat down to take a little rest an inhaled the clean air, putting our hands in the cold water and enjoying the calming sounds of nature. A little bit later we followed the trail back to the jeep and went along the road that led us to the Swazi cultural village. Going into it felt like we were traveling in time, with the sounds of drum beats and singing surrounding us together with the view of beehive huts. We entered the complex of sixteen huts shouting a traditional Swazi greeting to announce our presence and had to wait until it was returned by the women in the village.
A traditionally dressed Swazi guide helped us to get fully immersed in Swazi culture by providing us with facts and tales of traditional Swazi life. The complexity of a Swazi village was especially intriguing for me, and the construction of the varying sizes of huts fascinated me even more. The building material is strictly traditional: poles, grass, reeds, leather stripes, earth and dried cow dung. Each hut has own specific purpose and designated location within the village; for example, the hut of the “inyanga”(diviner) who communicates with the spirits to solve the problems, is located near the cattle byre, as Swazi’s traditionally believe that the spirits of their ancestors dwell there.
The cattle byre forms the heart of the village, marriages and rituals take place there and cattle is used as a symbol of wealth and currency. The practice of paying a bride price (referred to locally as “lobola”) is still common in the country – and lobola typically comes in the form of cattle. Many cattle. While about five cows are usually needed to cover the bride price, up to 60 cows could be paid if a future spouse comes from Swaziland’s royal family. This custom recalls earlier times when cattle were effectively the state’s national currency.
Swaziland might be a small country in comparison to its neighbours, but it is big when comes to upholding its culture, and awe-inspiring its visitors with its beautiful landscapes and sunsets. Ngiyabonga for the unforgettable time!