Sunday, September 25, 2011

Meeting the Chief

Dancing at Nstsimba...wearing traditional regalia

I am learning to love my site. People greet me by my surname as I saunter around the community ("Sawubona Shongwe!") As time goes by I begin to get leads as to possible work ventures and health education forums. The Simunye Country Club has a peer educator, for instance, who wants me to teach classes on various health related subjects. I suggested I do this from the pool, but I don't know that that's feasible. But I couldn't do anything until I met the chief.

Every community in Swaziland (or really, chiefdom) has a ruling chief and an inner council. Usually they are of the Dlamini clan (royal) but mine happens to have a different surname. I hadn't been in touch with my counterpart for nearly a month and was beginning to formulate different strategies on how to do my community assessment and meet the chief without her. But finally we met up and got the ball rolling. It's good to be patient here (and everywhere). And frankly, that month was better spent acclimating myself than trying to begin work.

Anyway, I left the house at 615 to meet the chief. Make and Babe came, which was very nice of them. The time goes by. Hours. I am not accustomed to sitting like a lady on the ground, and it can be painful after some time. Swazi women sit with their legs straight out or on their sides without ever looking uncomfortable. I can sit indian-style for a long time, but that doesn't fly in a traditional dress. I also have terrible allergies here and I was tired. Not your typical "waiting room" with magazines and Judge Joe Brown on the T.V. Maybe 40 people were there just sitting on the grass in the shade of the gum trees, waiting. 4 hours pass and I am summoned to meet the inner-council. There are 10 men sitting in a semi-circle. One is wearing a 2008 Eagles NFC Champs t-shirt, I wonder what he thinks of Vick as starting QB (The Cardinals won that year I think).They talk for some time in siSwati and I follow my counterpart's example of looking down and speaking softly in the room full of men. Babe and Make laughed uncontrollably when I told them of my submissive behavior. Within 10 minutes, it was over. They all saw me at the traditional wedding and made fun of my dancing. I took this in stride. One step closer from being umlungu to Ntfombitanele.

Random Swazi Fact: Umlungu is the equivalent of Gringa. Sometimes its just  statement of fact, yes, I am a white lady. Other times, it can be derogatory. I usually just tell them my name and people use that instead.

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