A moment in my life: Luck

So many entertaining things happen in my life in Swaziland. These are the moments I will want to remember because they make me laugh, and they show insight into my daily routine. These moments are often hard to photograph and usually last only a minute or two. I will start sharing them with you in this occasional series. 

I got on a khumbi full of high school boys and sat down in the last empty seat.

I always listen to what people say when I enter a khumbi. Sometimes they say nothing about me. Other times they do, and when they do not except me to speak siSwati, I greet the khumbi.

This moment was different, because my audience was high school boys. Someone from the back says that the boy I am sitting next to is lucky because he is sitting next to me. In siSwati I hear the words for luck and seat, which was enough for me to understand the meaning.

So I turn to the boy sitting next to me and say in English, “So I hear that you are lucky to be sitting next to me.” The response was many jaws dropped from the boys on the khumbi and they stopped talking about me audibly.

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Day seven: Dancing time

The day of big dancing started off like every other day – with me unsure of what was going to happen. It turns out that Monday’s activities are a replica of Sunday’s, except that the reeds have already been delivered.

When it was time to parade for the king at the kraal, I knew not to look in his direction. The queen mother still looked like she was sleeping.

And then things started to change.

Men from the king’s regiments stepped out of line to perform kudlalisela for me, which is an act of respect and appreciation. At its simplest, it is a bow, but the men usually danced forward and made an elaborate bow.

Then my girls told me to sing.

I wasn’t expecting this because they had me sing the day before. I was thinking, today is the official performance. Can they really want me to sing now in front of every one?

Of course they did, because they loved showing me off.

It is a strange thing, being put on display for others. This is why I practiced so long and hard, but I am also happy to show off for disbelieving Swazis. The gasps, jaws dropping, and looks of surprise is oddly reaffirming to why I am here and why I should be respected and treated more like a Swazi than a tourist.

So I sang.

Gwalagwala gwalagwala
Phumani ngibukele

Ngoba ngaliselikhona
Phumani ngibukele
Ngoba ngaliselikhona

Men in one of the kraals started to point me out and comment that a white girl was singing.

Then the tourists came running with their giant cameras.

And then I changed songs to Mine ngilitjitji phaca (I am a pure maiden). The response is called out to the princess who created the song, but instead, my group was calling out my name, Hloniphile, which means respect. Essentially the response says, “Say it, Hloniphile!”

At this point, a camera man and his assistant, both of whom I recognized from other cultural events because they dress in Zulu traditional wear, saw me.

I was standing front and center of my group calling out the lines, and they came up right in front of me and asked me to slow my walking pace down, because they had to walk backward downhill in order to film me. (I will be asking them for this footage when I see them next, which I hope is at Incwala in December.)

Remember, traditional wear includes bare-chested females, beginning in the first photo below. All were taken by fellow PCV Kirby from www.whatiskirbydoing.com.

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Leading the group onto the field singing Mine ngilitjitji phaca.

They followed until we turned onto the field, where the Peace Corps photographers were waiting for me.

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Still singing.

We continued on around the back of the field to the large mass of participants waiting for the king to arrive at the field so the show could start.

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The president of Zambia Edgar Lungu and King Mswati III.

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The king’s retinue in the stadium.

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Nonduduzo, the head maiden, on the left with black feathers, and Sikhanyiso, the eldest princess, in orange with the staff.

My group and I sang and danced until we lined up, at which point I asked our leader to line everyone up. Our formation was a disaster the day before, so I was really hoping for uniform lines with uniform spacing. Apparently I was asking too much, especially because our first line left no space between us and the previous group, and the group after us was on our tail.

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Somehow we were directly behind the same group again, who easily overshadowed us.

I was able to form about 12 lines for my group and the girls only kind of stayed in line. One of my favorite comments from my friends watching was that it looked like I was trying so hard and the rest of my group did not care. This is a mostly accurate statement. They even sung a song we had not practiced, so I did not know the words. Fortunately we eventually changed to something I knew, so I could sing along. One of my friend’s Swazi siblings said they were surprised to see me singing at all.

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My group said they were going to take their shirts off. As you can see, they did not. I was irked about this because I could have matched.

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Singing and dancing on the field.

At least there had been spectacular parts of this event before our moment in the spotlight on the field because it wasn’t particularly special.

We headed to the back of the field again to do our own dancing and singing while the parade finished. Then the police made us get in line because the king was coming!

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The king and his retinue on the field greeting the participants.

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The king’s bow.

I watched his special staff cross back and forth across the field and he eventually neared. I had been waiting for months for the king to greet me. I thought him stopping in front of me was highly probable but not guaranteed. The rest of my group really wanted him to greet us as well, because he is their king. They told me to sing and dance hard and perfectly so the king will notice us.

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I was watching the king approach. Also note the tan lines on my feet. I had put sunscreen on my feet, which immediately collected all the dust. My feet were disgusting.

The king did not even look our way. The news and the regiments did, with many of them stopping for photographs and kudlalisela, but there was no king.


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President Lungu from Zambia and King Mswati III leaving the field. If you look straight back along the line in the grass, in the orange is Princess Sikhanyiso and in the blue to the right is the new bride-to-be.

After the king returned to his seat, the special dances started. The head maiden danced solo, the second-eldest daughter danced with many of the other elder royal young women, and finally the eldest princess performed a solo dance that included many modern interpretations of the traditional dance, including the moonwalk. Her dance was quite lengthy and was shown on the news the following night.

Finally, the dancing was finished, and after a quick round of goodbyes, I departed, already thinking about next year.

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Wednesday photo: Drying herbs

Most of my herbs in my garden have been growing like crazy. The more I pick, the more they grow, and I am having a hard time keeping up.

I have started hanging the herbs to dry in my room, and I quickly filled the space I created. Next I need to deleaf the smaller herbs and decide how I am storing them.


Paprika, parsley, chamomile, thyme, sage, marjoram, mint, and cayenne.

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Delivering the reeds in photos

Delivering the reeds was everything I wanted and more. You can read about that day here. I finally got the 1500 photos from day six and day seven, so here are the best ones from delivering the reeds. Please note that Swazi traditional wear for Umhlanga involves being bare-chested, which is reflected in some of these photos. All photos were taken by Kirby at www.whatiskirbydoing.com.

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Walking from the camping grounds to the parade grounds. We were singing about an escaped cow.

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Waiting in line to drop off our reeds. 

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The 80,000 participants waiting to parade.

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The president of Zambia Edgar Lungu and King Mswati III arriving.

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The elder noble females opening the parade. On the left of front line with lots of regalia and a sword is Nonduduzo, the leader of the maidens. She is not a member of the royal family and will keep this role until she marries. The eldest princess Sikhanyiso is carrying the staff in the center with the orange decorations. The king’s newest bride-to-be is to her left with the light blue and white decorations. 

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One of the well-organized groups.

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Participants were asked to wear the livadla, a skirt of colored strings, like the participant on the left. Some participants still chose to wear the indlamu, the short navy blue or black skirt with studs and the heavy pompom-like decorations the maidens in the front row of this group are wearing.

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Another excellent group with members of the royal family wearing the red feathers. This group was right before mine, so people did not pay much attention to us.

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Close-up of the indlamu outfit.


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Catching up with Cedric

Many of my travels in the last year have not been Cedric the gnome friendly. I can’t really say, hey lion, let me pose my gnome with you. This has led to a lack of Cedric adventures, plus he was injured during a photoshoot at Chaco Canyon at Christmas 2015, and since then, I have regularly kept him at home to keep him safe.

Last week, though, I went on Cedric-friendly adventures.


On the beach on the east coast of Mauritius.


Meeting a giant tortoise at Ile aux Aigrettes, Mauritius.


At Nelson Mandela’s house in SOWETO.

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Wednesday photo: Skipping rope

Today was the third session of my healthy living skipping rope activity at the primary school. 

It was the best yet as numbers dropped from 150 to 15. Today’s learners participated and proved they learned something in the first session. 

I expect the numbers will continue to fluctuate, making my work extremely difficult. At least the participants are having fun. 

And their skipping rope skills are incredibly impressive. 

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Wednesday photo: Bright bourgainvillea and turquoise water 

We had to backtrack a bit today after a complicated morning and lots of rain yesterday. 

It was totally worth it for the blue sky, beautiful flowers, turquoise water, and tortoises. The giant tortoises deserve their own post, so this one will be about the colors of the day. 


The sand was multicolored and hemmed in with black, volcanic rocks. There are lush greens everywhere.  

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Wednesday photo: Beet harvest

As spring becomes more and more like summer, my garden is finally producing lots. 

These were my pickings on Tuesday, plus two shopping bags full of lettuce leaves, and I successfully gave it all away (except the herbs, which I am drying). 

I love eating from my garden, but it is too much for one person most of the time. Plus, I really love sharing! 

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Day six: Delivering reeds to the queen mother

I thought to myself, “I wonder if the king is here,” and then I looked up and made eye contact with him.

It was the day of reed delivery to the queen mother, and it only made sense that the royal family would be watching.

After a well-deserved day of rest, I had returned to Lobamba High School to get ready to deliver my reeds to the queen mother and dance on the main field.

This was the extent of my knowledge for the day. One of the hardest parts of participating in Umhlanga was giving up all control. I really like to know what is happening next so that I can be prepared, and although I always had what I needed, it was hard to be at the mercy of people who only sometimes communicated well in English.

Around noon we lined up outside our tent after collecting our bundles of reeds. Our tindvuna (male chaperones) put us in lines of five, with me easily visible in the second line.


Noncedo and me getting ready.

We finally headed toward Ludzidzini singing one of my new favorite songs.

Ivalele, ivalele, ivalele, ivalele
Inkhomo mifo ifo ifohle lani

The cow is locked up, locked up, locked up, locked up
The cow escaped, escaped, escaped how

We joined those who departed before us waiting to take the reeds to the kraal in a sea of beautifully dressed Swazi and Zulu maidens. Unlike the previous days, though, there were tourists looking for good photos.

In Swaziland, it is illegal to take photos of children without their parents’ consent, but that did not stop anyone. Although I don’t fall under the legislation, I still was extremely annoyed at the people who wanted to take photos of me without asking.

Apparently everyone thought it would be great to have a picture of the white girl standing around traditionally dressed with her fellow timbali. I educated the rest of my group that they did not have to pose for anyone and could turn around just like me. Had any of these 20-plus people who walked past toting huge cameras asked to take a photo of me with or without my friends, I would have agreed, but no one did.


Waiting with our reeds.

Finally we were off and we slowly made our way to the kraal where we handed over our bunches of reeds to tindvuna who lined them up on fences erected for the occasion. They were surprised to see me. Then a lutsango member (regiment for married women) called out to me, asking if I was the Peace Corps Volunteer. Apparently she had been keeping up on her Swazi Times articles, where there was a photo and an article about me on two different days.

Then things got a bit crazy. We started singing one of this year’s new songs while reforming into our lines. I realized there were people ahead, which I was not prepared for. I thought to myself, “I wonder if the king is here,” and then I looked up and made eye contact with him.

Whoops. Ncesi kakhulu kakhulu. Swazis don’t make eye contact.

I had a moment of panic. Can I go to jail for this? Will the king marry me for this? But I did not have time to be distracted, because oh, there’s the queen mother. And oh, there’s a lot of important-looking men. And I still had to keep singing and dancing and trying to stay in step.

We get past all of them, and my group asks me to sing, and of course I say yes. They know I know the songs, and if I have already embarrassed myself in front of the king, what else is there to lose?

I lead the singing as we make our way down to the field. I surprise everyone by taking my shoes off when we get to the grass. We sing and dance our way across the back of the field where all of the participants have massed. Then we form our own group singing all manner of songs. They make me dance ingadla, the kicking dance, and sing lead a few times, and soon we have a mass of girls surrounding us, watching the group with the imbali of a different skin color try so hard to be Swazi.

Eventually we parade in front of the stands in a horrible formation and file around to the back of the field again where we have our own dance party for the rest of the night.

During moments like these I would hear lots of shouts of umlungu, the word for visitor and regularly used for all white people. Sometimes I ignore this word, and sometimes I don’t. At Umhlanga, I would answer but not in the way expected. Most of the time, I think Swazis do not expect foreigners to even recognize the word, let alone be able to respond in siSwati. So when I would say, “Uphi?” they would be shocked. I was responding with the word where, which I would follow with, “Ngingu Hloniphile.” I am Hloniphile. “Ngihlala kaNgwane.” I live in Swaziland.

After hearing my response a few times, the girls in my group would respond likewise. It was their way of saying she’s with us and you can acknowledge her properly, which was more than I ever expected.



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What’s cooking: Chakalaka

Sometimes I do not have time to prepare food to the likes of what I write about regularly in the SOJO.

There are a few staples that I always have on hand for times like the months of June and July where I spent many hours preparing delectable dishes for Peace Corps events, going on vacation, helping out at PST, and keeping up with my regular community activities. These staples include rice, pasta, lentils, canned beans, and chakalaka.

My favorite quick food to make has become my Swazi chili: chakalaka.

But, of course, I cannot just eat a can of chakalaka. To make a meal out of it, I add a can of beans, a can of peas, and a cup of rice.

Chakalaka comes in many varieties, brands, and heat levels. My preference is the Koo Extra Hot because I love the heat and the Koo brand has the least amount of included cabbage.


Feel free to personalize this dish to include your preferred vegetables and beans.

Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 5
Cost: E32

Pot with lid
Can opener
Spoon for stirring
Measuring cup

1 can Koo Extra Hot chakalaka
1 can black beans
1 can garden peas
1 can water
1 cup rice


  1. Turn on stove to high heat. Open the three cans. Drain the beans and peas before pouring into the pot. Pour in the chakalaka. Fill the chakalaka can with water to rinse the can. Then pour that water into the pot. Add the cup of rice.
  2. Cover and heat until boiling. Reduce to a simmer until rice is cooked.
  3. Remove from heat and serve.


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