There’s Something About Swaziland

Swaziland grabbed me a few years ago. It won’t let go.

My first visit to the Swazi Kingdom, in 2008, was an emotional earthquake. I was blindsided by the realization that I wasn’t the person I thought I was. So I went back to the United States and spent the next 18 months trying to deny my discovery. I thought maybe I could keep this scary new person — who I called “Africa Heather” — under wraps, and live happily ever after as “U.S. Heather”.

I was wrong. Two years after that first Swazi trip, I gave in to Africa Heather and started a new life.

I’ve been back to Swaziland four times since then. It’s not a big country, so each time I wind up at the same places, accosted by memories and blindsided again by how beautiful Swaziland is. My most recent trip was no exception.

Swaziland.

Last Sunday I found myself at Swaziland’s Mantenga Cultural Village and Nature Reserve. I wasn’t keen to be there. I’d been to Mantenga several times before, always with Jon. Jon and I stayed at the Mantenga Lodge in 2010, and barely lived to tell the tale when our cabin flooded during a torrential thunderstorm.

Anyway, I have a lot of memories from Mantenga and wasn’t in the mood to relive them on Sunday. I wasn’t particularly excited to tour the “cultural village” and watch a traditional Swazi dance, either. I’ve visited many real Swazi villages and watched real Swazi dances. The Mantenga set-up seemed contrived, and the tour expensive (R100, or $12). But my friends had never seen Swazi dancing and really wanted to do the tour. I didn’t want to let them down, so I coughed up the 100 bucks and settled in to enjoy the performance as best I could.

Swazi dancers begin their performance at the Mantenga Cultural Village. Jon and I used to make fun of these tourists. Now I was one of them. Ha.

I had forgotten that Swazi dances start slowly. The dancers didn’t do much at first, hanging in a pack, singing quietly, and shuffling their feet a bit. I felt sullen. I looked up at Nyonyane Mountain, where I said a final goodbye to Jon four months ago. Mantenga sits right at the base of that mountain.

 A single female dancer separated herself from the pack and began to move in earnest. The singing and the pounding drums grew louder. The girl took purposeful strides, rattling her traditional seed-pod anklets. Then she kicked.

She kicked her foot all the way above her head. I didn’t get a good shot though, because I was crying too hard.

When I saw that girl do the traditional Swazi kick, something cracked inside. I remembered my first trip to Swaziland when I watched a troupe of schoolkids dance outside a health clinic, Jon crouching in front with his shutter clicking. The intensity on those children’s faces, which I later saw reflected in Jon’s photographs, pierced my heart. I remembered.

When I finished crying, I suddenly felt glad to be at the Mantenga Cultural Village, watching a Swazi dance with a bunch of other camera-clad tourists. Where else would I rather be?

After the girl soloists finished, the boys took center stage. I was ready for the kicks this time.

Airborne.

Male soloist.

I spoke to the girl on the left after the performance. “Swazis are born knowing how to dance,” she told me. I believe it.

Half-way through the dance, a toddler in the front row started to get fussy. A dancer sashayed up to the boy, swept him from the arms of his mother (who was more than willing to relinquish him), and carried him to the middle of the dancer pack. The boy quieted and settled into the arms of his new friend. She held him for the rest of the dance. He loved it.

This moment made every cent of my R100 worth it.

Only in Swaziland.

The cultural village was about what I expected. The only person inside the village was a granny selling souvenirs. There were lots of hungry monkeys though.

Monkey mascot of the Mantenga Cultural Village.

After the tour, my friends and I walked down to the Mantenga Waterfalls. I had admired the falls from afar on my previous visits to Mantenga but never managed to hike down to the river for a close look, either due to rain or shortage of time.

I thought of Jon as I took pictures of sunlight bouncing off the cascading water. I’m sure he’s happy I finally made it.

Mantenga Waterfalls.

Despite my initial sullenness, obviously I was meant to visit Mantenga on Sunday. I’m sure I’ll be back again soon.

There’s just something about Swaziland.

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82 Comments

  • Reply Avalynn27 May 31, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    These pictures are AMAZING! What an awesome trip this must have been!

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 6:40 pm

      Thanks so much. Yep, every trip to Swaziland is an experience, to say the least. Never dull 🙂

  • Reply Avalynn27 May 31, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    These pictures are AMAZING! What an awesome trip this must have been!

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 6:40 pm

      Thanks so much. Yep, every trip to Swaziland is an experience, to say the least. Never dull 🙂

  • Reply Kathy S May 31, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Sometimes it is wonderful to go do touristy things in a place you love. Jon’s objections to tourist traps notwithstanding, a place like this gives you the unique opportunity to look into the eyes of others and see the very moment that they become captured by a place that has already captured you.

    Loved this post.

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 6:54 pm

      That is so wonderfully well-said. And you remember Jon very well 🙂

  • Reply Kathy S May 31, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Sometimes it is wonderful to go do touristy things in a place you love. Jon’s objections to tourist traps notwithstanding, a place like this gives you the unique opportunity to look into the eyes of others and see the very moment that they become captured by a place that has already captured you.

    Loved this post.

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 6:54 pm

      That is so wonderfully well-said. And you remember Jon very well 🙂

  • Reply Liam May 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    Great post, Heather! What a special place. One of my favorite places on the planet, for all the reasons you mention (including Jon). I hope to one day return…

    Liam

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 7:27 pm

      Thanks Liam. We passed by the road to the Timbali Lodge so many times on this trip…I nearly asked my friend to turn in just so I could have a look at it. Never did though.

      I hope you get to return someday too!

  • Reply Liam May 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    Great post, Heather! What a special place. One of my favorite places on the planet, for all the reasons you mention (including Jon). I hope to one day return…

    Liam

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 7:27 pm

      Thanks Liam. We passed by the road to the Timbali Lodge so many times on this trip…I nearly asked my friend to turn in just so I could have a look at it. Never did though.

      I hope you get to return someday too!

  • Reply Tonito May 31, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    As always, great photos! I’m not always a fan of these cultural villages as I always feel it’s all act and that folks only do it as tourists are around. I’ve attended these contrived experience in Peru and China and in all honesty did not enjoy them as much. I did though in Istanbul see real Romani Gypsies burst into dance spontaneously at the sight of my Nigerian friend (and having heard so much about Gypsy culture and their love for music and dance) it was a real treat to see this up close and with no payments involved!

    Coming back to Swaziland, while living in Mozambique I made several plans and attempts to visit only to change plans last minute. so the more I see you writing about the country, the more I want to go! Will have to make an effort next time I’m down in South Africa!

    Once again, awesome photos!

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks Tonito. You should definitely go to Swazi as soon as you can — you’d love it. And yes, the cultural village was pretty lame but I always enjoy a good African dance. So I’m glad I did it.

      • Reply Tonito May 31, 2012 at 7:37 pm

        Good point an African dance is always fun!! 🙂

  • Reply Tonito May 31, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    As always, great photos! I’m not always a fan of these cultural villages as I always feel it’s all act and that folks only do it as tourists are around. I’ve attended these contrived experience in Peru and China and in all honesty did not enjoy them as much. I did though in Istanbul see real Romani Gypsies burst into dance spontaneously at the sight of my Nigerian friend (and having heard so much about Gypsy culture and their love for music and dance) it was a real treat to see this up close and with no payments involved!

    Coming back to Swaziland, while living in Mozambique I made several plans and attempts to visit only to change plans last minute. so the more I see you writing about the country, the more I want to go! Will have to make an effort next time I’m down in South Africa!

    Once again, awesome photos!

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks Tonito. You should definitely go to Swazi as soon as you can — you’d love it. And yes, the cultural village was pretty lame but I always enjoy a good African dance. So I’m glad I did it.

      • Reply Tonito May 31, 2012 at 7:37 pm

        Good point an African dance is always fun!! 🙂

  • Reply buckwheatsrisk May 31, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    wow what beauty!

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      Yep. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

  • Reply buckwheatsrisk May 31, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    wow what beauty!

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      Yep. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

  • Reply Nina Neubauer May 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Can I come with you next time? 🙂

  • Reply Nina Neubauer May 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Can I come with you next time? 🙂

  • Reply jackie hulme May 31, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    lovely story. I love the pic of the monkey, and the baby boy. I memory I will never forget was going to Swaziland as a kid when I first arrived in SA and stopping at the side of the road and these swazi youngsters – younger than me broke out into a song on their drums to “oh what a night late September back in 63” … one of my favourite memories

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      Ha! That does sound really fun 🙂

  • Reply jackie hulme May 31, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    lovely story. I love the pic of the monkey, and the baby boy. I memory I will never forget was going to Swaziland as a kid when I first arrived in SA and stopping at the side of the road and these swazi youngsters – younger than me broke out into a song on their drums to “oh what a night late September back in 63” … one of my favourite memories

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      Ha! That does sound really fun 🙂

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough May 31, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    The dancing sounds(and looks) AMAZING! Glad to hear you made it to the falls! Stunning photos.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Thanks Kathy. Yep, Swazi dancing (and Zulu dancing, which is much the same) is really, really beautiful. I never get tired of watching it.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough May 31, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    The dancing sounds(and looks) AMAZING! Glad to hear you made it to the falls! Stunning photos.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Thanks Kathy. Yep, Swazi dancing (and Zulu dancing, which is much the same) is really, really beautiful. I never get tired of watching it.

  • Reply thirdeyemom May 31, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Simply beautiful! Would love to also go. Gorgeous pictures as always. Nicole 🙂

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 9:08 am

      Thanks Nicole. You would love Swaziland.

  • Reply thirdeyemom May 31, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Simply beautiful! Would love to also go. Gorgeous pictures as always. Nicole 🙂

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 9:08 am

      Thanks Nicole. You would love Swaziland.

  • Reply claire June 1, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Hi H. Catching up on your blogs, and wow, this one brought me to tears my commute home. So beautiful tinspiring and insightful o follow your personal and emotional journey. We were unpacking pictures and wall hangings the other day, and the large framed photo of Jon’s jeep on the hill at sunset- i think in Swaziiland- was one of them. I’m saving it for you, so let me know if I can send it to you. Thinking of and missing you my oldest friend. You are amazing.
    Love
    c

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 9:08 am

      Thanks, friend. Yes, that photo is from Swaziland. Jon would chastise you for calling his car a Jeep though. It’s a Land Rover 🙂

      I miss you!

  • Reply claire June 1, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Hi H. Catching up on your blogs, and wow, this one brought me to tears my commute home. So beautiful tinspiring and insightful o follow your personal and emotional journey. We were unpacking pictures and wall hangings the other day, and the large framed photo of Jon’s jeep on the hill at sunset- i think in Swaziiland- was one of them. I’m saving it for you, so let me know if I can send it to you. Thinking of and missing you my oldest friend. You are amazing.
    Love
    c

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 9:08 am

      Thanks, friend. Yes, that photo is from Swaziland. Jon would chastise you for calling his car a Jeep though. It’s a Land Rover 🙂

      I miss you!

  • Reply lisa@notesfromafrica June 1, 2012 at 8:48 am

    Love that first photo of the Swazi hills! You’re also taking great photographs of people – that close-up one with the little child is wonderful. Again reminds me so much of Jon’s photography.

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 9:06 am

      Thanks so much Lisa. I was lucky to have a good teacher.

      • Reply lisa@notesfromafrica June 1, 2012 at 9:44 am

        You did. You obviously also inherited some of your father’s talent. He must be so proud of your photography skills.

  • Reply lisa@notesfromafrica June 1, 2012 at 8:48 am

    Love that first photo of the Swazi hills! You’re also taking great photographs of people – that close-up one with the little child is wonderful. Again reminds me so much of Jon’s photography.

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 9:06 am

      Thanks so much Lisa. I was lucky to have a good teacher.

      • Reply lisa@notesfromafrica June 1, 2012 at 9:44 am

        You did. You obviously also inherited some of your father’s talent. He must be so proud of your photography skills.

  • Reply pbdweeeebies June 1, 2012 at 10:37 am

    …and just in case you have not done so yet, a hike up Sibebe is s must for **addicts

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      No, I’ve never done that! Must investigate.

  • Reply pbdweeeebies June 1, 2012 at 10:37 am

    …and just in case you have not done so yet, a hike up Sibebe is s must for **addicts

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      No, I’ve never done that! Must investigate.

  • Reply Sine June 1, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I also love that first picture of the hills best, what an awesome landscape. Can’t believe I haven’t made it there yet, will definitely have to do it soon. The dancing and singing also never ceases to amaze me, whether it’s touristy or not, it’s always beautiful.

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      It’s a special place. And you’re a crazy traveler. Go soon!

  • Reply Sine June 1, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I also love that first picture of the hills best, what an awesome landscape. Can’t believe I haven’t made it there yet, will definitely have to do it soon. The dancing and singing also never ceases to amaze me, whether it’s touristy or not, it’s always beautiful.

    • Reply 2summers June 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      It’s a special place. And you’re a crazy traveler. Go soon!

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish June 1, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    As always, you’ve taken the perfect photos to bring Africa alive to me (never been there. yet)

    On one of our early trips to Disneyland in CA, I waited in line with visiting friends for over an hour to get onto one of the big rides. When the family in front of us were finally getting into their car, the youngest child suddenly took fright and refused. After an hour in the heat, you can imagine how the family felt — can’t force her but who gets to back stay with her and miss the ride? And a hundred more people in line not in a mood to wait for her to be persuaded. Without missing a beat, the employee working the control console asked the little girl if she’d like to stay with her until the family got back. The child was out of the car and into her arms and the car was moving almost before the family had time to react. By the time our car was loaded and starting off, the child was sitting comfortably on the employee’s hip learning how to push the right button and pull the right lever to make the cars go. I’ve got a hundred memories of Disneyland, but when I think about that place, I love remembering how naturally that employee took care of the situation and how happy that little girl was to be sitting on a stranger’s hip.

    • Reply 2summers June 2, 2012 at 7:35 am

      What a nice story! We actually had a similar experience at Disneyworld when we were kids. My sister was too scared to go on Space Mountain so an employee stepped in and took her back to the entrance. I’m glad my photos are bringing Africa to life for you.

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish June 1, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    As always, you’ve taken the perfect photos to bring Africa alive to me (never been there. yet)

    On one of our early trips to Disneyland in CA, I waited in line with visiting friends for over an hour to get onto one of the big rides. When the family in front of us were finally getting into their car, the youngest child suddenly took fright and refused. After an hour in the heat, you can imagine how the family felt — can’t force her but who gets to back stay with her and miss the ride? And a hundred more people in line not in a mood to wait for her to be persuaded. Without missing a beat, the employee working the control console asked the little girl if she’d like to stay with her until the family got back. The child was out of the car and into her arms and the car was moving almost before the family had time to react. By the time our car was loaded and starting off, the child was sitting comfortably on the employee’s hip learning how to push the right button and pull the right lever to make the cars go. I’ve got a hundred memories of Disneyland, but when I think about that place, I love remembering how naturally that employee took care of the situation and how happy that little girl was to be sitting on a stranger’s hip.

    • Reply 2summers June 2, 2012 at 7:35 am

      What a nice story! We actually had a similar experience at Disneyworld when we were kids. My sister was too scared to go on Space Mountain so an employee stepped in and took her back to the entrance. I’m glad my photos are bringing Africa to life for you.

  • Reply Tenney June 1, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Dynamite photos.—Dyamite.

  • Reply Tenney June 1, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Dynamite photos.—Dyamite.

  • Reply Debra Colby-Conklin June 2, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    The photos were lovely and your writing heartfelt. Thank you for sharing these as well as your memories.

    • Reply 2summers June 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm

      Thank you very much Debra. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I really appreciate your comment.

  • Reply Debra Colby-Conklin June 2, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    The photos were lovely and your writing heartfelt. Thank you for sharing these as well as your memories.

    • Reply 2summers June 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm

      Thank you very much Debra. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I really appreciate your comment.

  • Reply Lu June 4, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Stunning photos – I love the expressions on the faces of the dancers – especially the “girl on the left”. Awesome – they really look as though they are thoroughly enjoying themselves 🙂

    • Reply 2summers June 4, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      Thanks. I should have learned the name of Girl on the Left. She was really cool.

  • Reply Lu June 4, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Stunning photos – I love the expressions on the faces of the dancers – especially the “girl on the left”. Awesome – they really look as though they are thoroughly enjoying themselves 🙂

    • Reply 2summers June 4, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      Thanks. I should have learned the name of Girl on the Left. She was really cool.

  • Reply Alexandre Judice August 12, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Hi!! You can’t imagine how happy am i to found your blog. I’ m the Father of the toddler who appeared in the picture. His name is João (Jonh in portuguese). We are from Brazil, living in Maputo since march. How wonderful was This experience in Swaziland. I could never imagine myself living in Africa and visiting all these countries. How lucky and glad i am to have this opportunity. Africa overcame all my expectations. Thanks a lot to share this amazing moment, that Will Be forever record in our minds.

    • Reply 2summers August 13, 2012 at 8:31 am

      Hi Alexandre, I’m so glad you connected with me and were able to see the blog. Your son is beautiful! And I’m happy to hear that you are having such a great experience in Africa. All the best to you and enjoy the rest of your time in Maputo.

  • Reply Alexandre Judice August 12, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Hi!! You can’t imagine how happy am i to found your blog. I’ m the Father of the toddler who appeared in the picture. His name is João (Jonh in portuguese). We are from Brazil, living in Maputo since march. How wonderful was This experience in Swaziland. I could never imagine myself living in Africa and visiting all these countries. How lucky and glad i am to have this opportunity. Africa overcame all my expectations. Thanks a lot to share this amazing moment, that Will Be forever record in our minds.

    • Reply 2summers August 13, 2012 at 8:31 am

      Hi Alexandre, I’m so glad you connected with me and were able to see the blog. Your son is beautiful! And I’m happy to hear that you are having such a great experience in Africa. All the best to you and enjoy the rest of your time in Maputo.

  • Reply Bancomiwe January 16, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Your photography is amazing!!! What a beautiful way to capture my beloved Swaziland, thank you ever so much for sharing. As a Swazi I tend to forget all the marvels of this country, I work near Mantenga, but my last visit was as a child. Maybe its time I head back up there!

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked the post. Yes, sounds like it’s time for another Mantenga visit 🙂

  • Reply Bancomiwe January 16, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Your photography is amazing!!! What a beautiful way to capture my beloved Swaziland, thank you ever so much for sharing. As a Swazi I tend to forget all the marvels of this country, I work near Mantenga, but my last visit was as a child. Maybe its time I head back up there!

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked the post. Yes, sounds like it’s time for another Mantenga visit 🙂

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