This last weekend, Swaziland had its annual celebration of the coming of season of the Marula fruit. This fruit is an incredible fruit for many reasons. As a fruit, once it begins to ripen it falls off the tree and can be eaten. The fruit has a natural sour taste like a sour candy. The thing the fruit is most well known for is its ability to be made into a delicious alcohol called buganu (boo-ga-noo). Depending on how it is made it can taste like a beer or a sweet wine. If you have ever had the liquor Amurula, the Marula fruit is used to make that drink. Inside each fruit is a seed, inside the seed is a nut. Once the seed has dried for a long time the nut is edible and supposedly very tasty.
So this past weekend Swaziland held a festival to celebrate this Marula fruit. The festival is a major event where Swazis from all over the country come to one of the King’s royal residences just a few miles away from where I live. The King and many people in the royal family also attend the celebration. I will tell you more about the festival later but for the time being just know that it is a festival that is comparable to the Zinzinnati Oktoberfest, its a holiday to celebrate alcohol, I mean the fruit. As I live so close to this festival, I wanted to experience it and asked my family’s permission to have a couple of friends come over to experience it as well. Once Make heard I wanted to have a couple friends over she went a step further, “No, you need to invite all of your friends! They must all come. We will make many buckets of buganu for your friends and you all can drink, eat, dance, and sing at our homestead in the morning, go to the festival during the day, come home and drink and eat more!”What went from an idea of having one or two people staying the weekend with me turned into having 17 PCVs staying at my homestead. This might sound like a nightmare from a planning perspective, the biggest concern of mine is how this would be perceived by people in my community.
There is a great amount of judging that happens in Swaziland when people are seen drinking because many people who drink drink all day long day after day. It makes sense that my Make, like many Swazis think that if someone drinks they are automatically a drunkard and ruining their life. The weekend no doubt was used as a way for many PCVs to relax and have a good time but it also had other motives. Personally, I wanted to use this opportunity to demonstrate responsible drinking to not only my family but to my entire community. As it doesn’t need much explanation or follow up I’ll just say the PCVs that visited demonstrated this perfectly. Even when faced with having a virtually endless supply of free buganu not a single person acted in any way other than professionally. Likewise, my family and community used this opportunity to demonstrate to 17 guests what Swazi hospitality looks like.
What does Swazi hospitality look like? That’s what this blog post is about.
Swazi hospitality takes the form of an entire family spending over 5 hours a day for an entire week to clean and prepare our homestead to be spotless for our guests. My bobhuti used hand sickles to cut down all of the grass around our homestead. My bhuti used a shovel to make our walkway spotless from any grass. My Make used a hoe to remove any grass from our yard so people can pitch their tents on our yard (sounds weird but sleeping on sand is much more comfy than sleeping on patchy grass). My Babe and bobhuti fixed the latrine so no flies would get in to it.
It takes the form of my Make talking to all of the community and regional leaders in the area to inform them all that there will be many honored guests staying the weekend so they can attend the celebration. Through this, the leaders of my community contacted many different groups of people to ensure our guests felt welcome and safe. Some of this included the community police talking to people in our community to tell them no one is to bother the guests by asking for money or food and people are not to come to the homestead unannounced as a safety measure. Additionally, people known as Rural Health Motivators (RHM) came to ensure the homestead had nothing that would pose health risks to the guests. They checked the cleanliness of the latrines and ensured there was plenty of water available. Even our region’s Member of Parliament (MP) was very involved in hosting our guests. He was involved in communicating to the leaders in charge of the festival in the neighboring community to see to it that the PCVs had a place to sit and watch the celebrations under a tent to spare us from the 95 degree sun. Our MP took it upon himself to bring us 20 chairs to the homestead so our guests didn’t sit on the ground. Through involving our community, our community leaders even contacted a church in our community who gladly allowed us to borrow sleeping pads for the guests to make their sleep more comfortable. This church even offered a place for us all to sleep if for some reason the guests couldn’t sleep at the homestead (such as in the case of a severe storm). Talk about #poshcorps. The amount of excitement this was generating in my community was so incredible everyone in my community seemed to know about it and couldn’t wait for our community’s guests to arrive.
Swazi hospitality also was demonstrated in ways I can’t put words to. To feed the guests, we bought 3 chickens which would have been plenty for the meals. Even so, my Babe gave me a gift, he gave me a goat.. When I asked why he would give such a large gift to me (goats aren’t cheap), the response my Make gave me on Babe’s behalf was, “Ndoda, your Babe loves you a lot and is so excited for your friends to come and spend time with us.” I still have a hard time not having this melt my heart. Needless to say, our guests did not go home hungry.
Swazi hospitality takes the form of Make and I spending all afternoon for several days making buganu for our guests. Together, we made well over 40 liters of buganu to share with everyone this weekend. Even though it wasn’t something I came to Swaziland intending to do, I can now say I am pretty good at brewing buganu…need to find someone to start up a local craft brewery with this stuff!
Swazi hospitality takes the form of my siblings all offering up their bedrooms (huts) to our guests to ensure everyone has a place to sleep.
Swazi hospitality also takes the form of bus conductors that I know who travel through my community helping to ensure our guests arrive at my community safely and don’t miss their stop. It takes the form of community members arranging transportation to take us to and from the festival.
It takes the form of RHMs and other groups of people in our community cooking meals for us. Even when we were all away at the festival and it was getting late, members of the community were at our homestead making meals for us so we didn’t have to wait to eat when we got home. One of the ladies who helped cook even made homemade cornbread! I need to learn how to cook that.
It takes the form of several main community groups coming to introduce themselves and to welcome the guests to the community. This included the RHMs, Bandlancane, Caregivers, members of the Umpakatsi, the Member of Parliament, even the Chief.
It takes the form of the kids from our surrounding neighbors coming over to teach us how to dance to a traditional song that the PCVs really liked from the festival.
Throughout this weekend I was checking up with my host family to see how they were doing and how they were perceiving all of the guests. They were so thrilled everyone was here and everything was going so great. There was lots of laughter, eating, drinking, and meeting lots of new people. While people in my community used this weekend to make other PCVs feel welcome in my community and they succeeded greatly, this weekend went beyond our guests. The level of welcoming and hospitality my family and community showed has further strengthened my relationship with people in my community and made me feel more welcome in an already welcoming community. I could not be more lucky to have such a wonderful family and community. While Swaziland, like every country has its challenges, we all have things in which we excel. Swazis have mastered hospitality in ways I have never experienced until this weekend.
Photo credits go to Kirby Riley or my little bhuti Mcondisi who took my camera without me knowing and began taking pictures with it.