April 19th, 2013
I have officially been to a royal birthday party. Cross that one off the bucket list, although I have to admit it was not the glamorous event my imagination dreamed up. My participation resembled more of a 16th century royal outing from the perspective of a peasant.
Every year the King hosts a birthday party in a different region of the country. This year, for his 45th birthday, he held it in Siteki, the closest town to my community, so I decided to put on my party clothes and go. It was a rainy day so I didn’t go full out in Swazi attire, which leaves a women fairly exposed to the elements, rather I donned modern clothes plus a lihiya as a skirt and a traditional necklace to show I had some Swazi spirit.
Catching a very crowed, standing room only bus to Siteki I practiced how to say “King’s Birthday” in siSwati, which provided a lot of entertainment to those around me. A stadium had been erected in a muddy field, much like a jousting tournament, and we (the public) were admitted and squished into stadium benches to view the events of the day.
So we were there, we were excited to see what a King’s Birthday Party looked like. We arrived just in time for the scheduled events to start and in true Swazi style they didn’t start for 2 more hours. Siteki sits on a plateau and its significantly colder then down in the area where I live. It was cold and rainy, sitting and waiting was miserable. I was sitting in the student section with my PCV friend Ryan’s primary school. I recruited the students to sit around my in a circle, we created a huddle of warmth to pass the time. We waited and waited and then we saw just about nothing.
Before the King arrived a very heavy fog descended on the Siteki plateau making it impossible to see past 25 feet in front of you, let alone across a stadium field. Despite being very late for his own party, the King made an exciting entrance. The army provided guard and he inspected them to kick-start the events, which got him within 30 feet of me! A few singings of the national anthem later it seems things were getting started. The army guard did some really cool silent marching that got the crowd cheering, despite the fact we could all barely see through the fog. Then someone talked for an hour announcing new titles people were getting and then the King left and it was over.
There was supposed to be hours of entertainment that was prepared by various school groups and performance arts groups from the area, including Ryan’s students. It all got canceled because time was up. One good thing to come out of the day was that the students, after sitting in the cold all day, got their free gift for “participating,” which ironically was a jacket that they received upon leaving the event.
Frozen, we made our way back to the bus rank to try and get home. This proved to be the most exciting part of the day. Since everyone was trying to head west, as were we, the demand for getting on transport was insane. Finally a bus willing to stop at all our little places along the main road came and it was a mad dash to get on. All etiquette was thrown out the window, pushing and shoving were the tools needed to get on the bus and I did and I got a seat. I’d say that means I’m fully integrated.
All in all, an interesting way to spend the day and its one more cultural event under my belt.