With the fifth week of placement over, there’s only two more weeks left of project for the volunteers, and an insane amount still to be done. We’ve got the Arts and Culture Day coming up next week, and while I know it’s going to be an incredible day, and probably one of the high points of the project, it is taking every ounce of my restraint not to freak out and take over the organisation of it myself, despite the fact that April has been doing an incredible job of sorting everything out herself. This is what being a Project Coordinator does to you. I am officially a control freak.
This week has been an interesting one. South Africa has finally caught up with us, and almost every single thing we had planned did not take the course we expected. To begin with, it was frustrating. By Friday, to be honest it was just hilarious. In one week, we had a Department of Education meeting postponed by 4 hours and then postponed to next week, held a workshop which nobody showed up to, and arranged to do a presentation which then got cancelled. But perhaps the best worst moment was when we drove around for 2 hours on dirt roads trying to find a place that we visited last week, with only the instruction ‘just go straight’ (STRAIGHT WHERE?!?!). We could only laugh.
All that said, there have been some definite highlights this week as well. We visited Siyaphila, an old people’s centre in Pienaar, to observe Lifa Lesive delivering a workshop on gender-based violence, and had a lovely time speaking to some of the people there. My favourite was an old lady who came up to us and, with no introduction, said ‘I’m 93 years old and I have over 50 grandchildren.’ We were somewhat undecided as to what our response to that was supposed to be…
Apart from that, we also managed to finally get hold of the most elusive man in the whole Department of Education, who let us sit in his office talking for a full twenty minutes before he revealed that he was actually the person we were looking for. That was fun.
But the definite high point of this week was the weekend, which we spent in Swaziland. We stayed in a lodge which was in the middle of a game reserve, and had a great evening there purely on the basis of beer, wine, and a few games of pool with Netto ‘I’m-not-good-at-pool-although-actually-I’m-lying-and-I’m-incredible’ Maluka. Simple pleasures. And we actually stayed up past 10 o’clock, which might be a first for the trip.
We visited Mantenga cultural village on the Saturday, which was quite a bizarre (though enjoyable) experience – basically a place set up to look like a traditional village except it’s all a big con and nobody really lives there. It was interesting though, and I enjoyed the traditional dance that we watched in the afternoon… although the dancers did look a bit bored. Tabi got called up to join in (rather her than me), but was a bit disappointed that they didn’t try and get her to do something more complicated than tapping her foot to the beat. Either way, she definitely outshone the guy who was dad-dancing next to her.
The next day was day 6 of the Swazi Reed Dance Festival, so we headed over to watch that, and the dancers were just as keen to have their pictures taken with us as we were with them! The festival is a celebration of tradition: about 20,000 young virgins between the ages of about 6-22 participate in the week-long event, which sees them all dressed up in the traditional garments (or lack of garments) of the various regions of Swaziland. They all go down to cut reeds from the river, which they then take to be deposited in front of the Queen Mother, as a gesture of respect, and these are then made into a new residence for her. Swaziland is one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in the world. King Mswati III (who we saw drive by in a fancy car with the Swazi flag flying on the front) has about 16 wives, and sometimes chooses a new one at the Reed festival – so an exciting day for him and us. The sight of 20,000-odd girls all carrying bundles of reed down a road is pretty impressive, so it was worth the long wait – we found a patch of shade and just sat around and dozed for an hour or so, with Netto sat studiously playing Candy Crush on his phone and taking horrible pictures of me and Rachel. Thanks pal. Netto’s current favourite past time is winding all of us up: an unfortunate side effect of us trusting him implicitly in everything he says is that we therefore assume that everything he says is actually true. Big mistake. But we are learning.
Anyway, we had a great day at the festival, James got to see a princess’ arse (which he seemed very pleased about), we all got very sunburnt (OK, I got very sunburnt) because we all left our suncream in the bus, and by the end of the day we were knackered and ready to go home. Very enjoyable weekend. Very much not ready for the week to start again. Very much going to wonder where the week has gone by the time we get to next Friday.
South Africa, you are wonderful. Even when everyone is late to meetings and places are just inexplicably hard to find and you confront us with difficult situations every day. We will miss you when we’re gone.
*** Edit: We found out later that there was an accident in Swaziland in which a truck carrying some of the dancers to the festival crashed, injuring and killing some of them, though it is unclear how many. Our thoughts go out to them and their families.***