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Sex, Drunk Driving, and a call to Polygamy

April 29th, 2013 1 comment

It is no secret that Swaziland’s main newspaper The Times is more akin to The Weekly World News than to the New York Times.  It is also common knowledge oddities are often a part of daily life in Swaziland.  But occasionally, you find an article that really makes you shake your head and say “Did I really read that?”  Today’s paper included one of those articles.  Here is a scan, but you can also click the image to read the online version.

sex drunk driver

This article really has some gems (or you could call them glimpses into depravity).

MANZINI – A drink-driving soldier told the court that he committed the offence after his wife refused to have sex with him.

Sifiso Dlamini (33) of Ngwane Park, who is employed by the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force and is based at Mdzimba, said this during his appearance in court on Thursday.

“Your Worship, I was refused sex by my wife and I was so angry I decided to go and drink with the hope that I will get a secret lover (makhwapheni) at the drinking hall.”

Ahh… the classic sex-depravation justification.

But thankfully we learn that this gentleman’s needs were met:

He said when he was arrested by the police, he was on his way to a secret place with a makhwapheni he had managed to snag at the bar.

So how does the court respond to his self medication with drinking and infidelity?

Magistrate Dumisa Mazibuko applauded him for not trying to rape his wife because he would have been sentenced a heavier fine than that of drink-driving.

Mazibuko also told him that it was better to go and buy sex from sex workers than raping. “If you have the money, go and buy instead of raping,” he said.

I don’t even know how to comment on that.  At least there is an acknowledgment that marital rape is not a good thing, but how in the world can a judge recommend the utilization of sex workers as a viable solution?

After he was found guilty, the defendant asks for mercy:

He asked the court to be lenient because he was a first offender and had a wife and two children to look after.

Oh yeah, let’s not forget that wife and family he has to take care of.  I am actually surprised that he didn’t ask for a waiver of the fine so that he could have enough money to pay sex workers in the future.

Instead of being leniant, the court offers a long-term solution.

After telling the court that he traditionally wedded his wife, the court advised him to take a second wife.

“The law allows you to have more than one wife,” said Magistrate Mazibuko.

The accused also agreed with the court. “After what happened, I will now consider taking a second wife,” he said.

You  just can’t make this stuff up!  I understand that polygamy is a recognized part of Swazi culture.  But we are in a whole new realm when multiple wives are being recommended by the judicial system as a way to solve issues of varying libido in a marital relationship.

At the article’s conclusion, we find that Mr. Dlamini is in fact sentenced for his crimes:

He was sentenced to two years in prison or a fine of E2 000.

In case you are not up on your currency conversion, this gentleman was given the choice of either spending two years in jail or paying a fine of $220.  That is the typical judgment against drunk driving which brings up a whole other set of issues.  If you are rich, you can break the law and easily afford to pay the fine without even flinching.  However if you are poor (and remember that 70% of the country lives on less than $2/day), you either give up over a month’s salary, or you sit in jail for a long long time.

I will let you draw your own conclusions and judgments, but this article was so over the top, I just had to share it.

Hiking Execution Rock

July 1st, 2012 No comments

Anyone who has driven the Ezulwini corridor between Mbabane and Manzini in Swaziland has certainly taken note of the large precipice known as Execution Rock.  The mountain is officially known as Nyonyane Peak, but goes by the more sinister moniker because it is said criminals were historically forced off the edge at spear-point for their crimes.

Execution Rock
[View of Execution Rock from one of our previous trips]

Since coming to Swaziland, we have wanted to hike to the top, but it is one of those things where it is so close by, you never get around to doing.  Plus, there is notoriously little information on the internet about.  I knew the mountain was in the Mlilwane Game Reserve, and had heard there was a short route and a long route, but beyond that reports vary widely.  Some sites say the hike takes 6 hours and others say you can get there in 15 minutes.  But, we enjoy spending time at Mlilwane, so we decided to make a day out of it; if we got to the top of Execution Rock that would be great.  If not, then we would enjoy a relaxing game drive and other short hikes.

Mlilwane is a relatively small park, but most of it is criss-crossed with trails.  There are no large predators, but you are absolutely guaranteed to see zebra, warthogs, wildebeests and a wide variety of antelope variations.  Plus it is super cheap.  The entrance price for all three of us was supposed to be E75 (less than $10 USD), but we have a Wild Card that lets us get in free.


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[Execution Rock is the summit on the right, note the hippos on the island to the left.]

At the main gate I asked about hiking trails to Execution Rock and was told I would have to go to the Rest Camp to get a hiking map.  That is only a 3.5km drive, so it was no big deal.  Basically you leave a E10 deposit, let them know where you are going, and you get a wrinkled laminated map.  Here is a photo of the map to give you an idea of the hiking trails inside Mlilwane:

Mlilwane Hiking Map

As you can see, there are a couple longer routes that are possible which start around the Reilly’s Rock area.  We ran into a few other hikers while we were out and they said they were told it would take them 2.5 hours to get to the summit of Execution Rock from the lodge at Reilly’s Rock, but they were able to do it in about an hour and a half (they looked to be in pretty good hiking shape).  You can also see there is a much shorter route that starts most of the way up the mountain.  That is the route we decided to take.  We were told at the Rest Camp that that route takes about 15 minutes to hike.  It’s probably possible to do it in 15 minutes but It took us closer to 40 minutes with our toddler in tow.

The drive from the rest camp to the Nyakato viewpoint took us about 20 minutes to drive.  We had a large 4×4 truck and did the drive in the dry season so it really wasn’t a problem.  If you’re used to driving on mountain dirt roads, I think you could probably do it in any vehicle, but if it rained, I could see how it could get pretty sketchy.

At the Nyakato viewpoint there is a nice picnic table and the views really are incredible.  We could hear the drums from Mantenga Cultural Village and the views of Sheba’s Breasts (neighboring mountain) and down into the mid-veld were pretty incredible.

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[Aloe plants in the foreground, Sheba’s Breast in the background.]

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The trail was well maintained and easy to follow.  I would guess the walk was less than a mile from the trailhead to the summit (1.2 km).  Most it was gradual slopes although the last stretch required careful foot placement and an occasional hand on the ground.

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[Mikayla handled the trail just fine.]

The day we hiked Execution Rock, there were several wildfires burning so the valley was pretty smokey.  However, the views from the top were still incredible.

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[Summit!]

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[Don’t worry, she really isn’t as close to the edge as it looks.]

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[Looking up the valley towards Mbabane]

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[Down the valley towards Manzini]

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[Looking back towards the trailhead]

From the time we left the truck to the time we returned to it, it was probably about 2.5 hours.  The hike up Execution Rock was certainly not an epic journey, but it was a great day hike that you can complete start to finish in 3-4 hours including the drive up to the trailhead.

After the hike, we spent about an hour driving through the park before grabbing lunch at the rest camp.  We were there during the hottest part of the day, but we were still able to see quite a few animals:

Execution Rock 008

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[The animals at the Rest Camp are pretty accustomed to people]

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[Mlilwane is known for its birdlife like this kingfisher.]

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[This is actually the first crocodile we have seen in Africa and it was HUGE.]

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Overall, it was an absolutely great day.  We ended it by eating at a new restaurant called Marimba’s in Manzini that specializes in African cuisine and it was excellent.  We were even able to throw in some grocery shopping and a stop at the airport and still make it home 12 hours after we left.

I am so glad we finally got that hike in.  Now we just need to make time for a few of the waterfall hikes in the highveld that we have been talking about doing.

There is already too much death in Swaziland

May 15th, 2012 1 comment

Last Tuesday morning started like usual… in fact, it had a certain air of excitement to it: We had just informed a few of our staff members that they would be traveling to the United States for an AIDS conference.  Adults who rarely show excitement were bursting with smiles, almost to the point of giggling.

Unfortunately within a few hours the whole community around us was bursting with a different type of emotion: raw sorrow and pain.  We found out around 10am that the two 2-year-old children of one of our former staff members had drowned in the canal.  They had been staying with their Gogo (grandmother) and had wandered away.  Some of the children on a nearby homestead saw them in the water and called their parents.  By the time people reached them both were already dead.

I simply don’t have the words to express the amount of sadness and grief that instantly swept through the entire area.  The mother, Nakiwe, was one of our brightest employees before she took a new job to be closer to her husband in Manzini.  The father, Felix, is a police officer, but has worked with Cabrini in the education for years and years, he was apart of life on the mission even before the current sisters were.  The grandfather was one of the major leaders in the church and in his chiefdom.  Probably a quarter of our staff live within a couple kilometers of where the boys drowned.

For five days, friends and family came to the homestead to grieve with the family, but despite the crowds of people, there simply aren’t the words that can be said.  You can’t give an explanation for something as tragic as this and any words of comfort will always ring hollow.

On Sunday morning before the sun came up, Beth, Mikayla and I didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day; instead we had to watch a wonderful mother bury her two innocent children.

There is already too much death in Swaziland. 

At least once a week one of our roughly 3,000 patients dies of HIV or TB.  The country has had to encourage people to only bury people on Saturdays because otherwise there would be no time to do anything but go to funerals.

There is already too much death in Swaziland. 

We deal with severe malnutrition and extreme poverty.  Rape and abuse is a common occurrence and it often comes from those closest to the victims.  Life is tough here under the best of circumstances.

There is already too much death in Swaziland. 

Our community shouldn’t have to deal with pain of losing two toddlers on top of everything else.

I have read the Bible cover-to-cover and spent years studying scripture.  I have a degree in Religious Studies and another in Biblical Studies.  I have spent years teaching and counseling people about God and his work in the world.  But with all that knowledge, I still can’t even begin to answer the question of why things like this happen.  What Nakiwe, Felix, and their families are going through is more than anyone should every have to endure.  We simply cannot justify it or explain it; to even try is insincere and crass. All we can do is mourn and comfort each other in whatever small way we can.

During our time of grieving with the family, Sister Diane had this to say:

Times like these are a great mystery, and while we may never have an answer for the pain we feel, one thing never changes: God has eternal and perfect love for all people.

True comfort will never come in our circumstances, it can only come in understanding and living out the perfect love of God.  It doesn’t answer the question and it doesn’t end our heartache, but hopefully that perspective can help to shape our trajectory in life – even in the midst of pain.

Mabuza boys [Nakiwe, Sisandza,Tandziso and Felix Mabuza at the Feast of St. Philips] 

Feast of Mother Cabrini 052

Swazi Incentives

April 5th, 2012 No comments

In the United States, it seems companies everywhere are offering chances to win a new iPad as incentive for using their services.  Apparently Apple technology doesn’t have the same appeal here in Swaziland, so they have tried other schemes:

2 cows 
[Advertisement found in local magazine, although billboards of this offer are also prominent in the country.]

I would love to see the logistics involved in making this promotion work.  I can just imagine the fine print:

Offer not available to employees of Standard Bank, their families or the cattle farmers involved in the raising or delivery of above mentioned cattle.

To put it in perspective, if a Swazi did win this promotion, they would already be 1/7th the way towards paying lobola (dowry) for a new bride.

Swazi Classified Ads – Traditional Healers

April 3rd, 2012 No comments

I have commented before on the craziness that is the Swazi Media.  Well today, I wanted to pass along a clipping from the Classified section of the Swazi Times (the most popular paper in the country). 

As you may know, a majority of Swazis visit traditional healers either instead of or in conjunction with western medicine.  This can include everything from "throwing bones" to consulting the spirits to taking herbal remedies to casting spells.  Most of these traditional healers (often incorrectly called witch-doctors) take a spiritual / magical approach to issues.  However, as you can see from these classified, the issues they often work on rarely have to do with spiritual (or even medical) issues. [Click the image for a larger view]

swazi_times_classified-resized

So, if you need assistance with a "week erection" or are looking for "a specialist in warts and womb cleansing" then look no further than your local Swazi traditional healer – conveniently advertized in the classified section.

This has to be my personal favorite (words in brackets mine):

My muthi [magic] is your answer.  It stops your relationship from breaking apart.  Put him/her under your feet, listen to everything you say [ahh yes… using oppression and subjugation to solve marital disputes].  To apologies when she/he is wrong by using emindi smoke remote control. [I wonder if works even if he/she is not wrong… it’s worth a shot… after all, who couldn’t use some remote-control smoke.]

But, I want to be fair… these listings are more indicative of the newspaper they are in than the overall profession of traditional healer.  The organization I work with regular collaborates with traditional healers, and while there are certainly some who are way out there, most are people whose view on the world is simply shaped by their cultural experiences and expectations.

Anyway, I thought you all would appreciate one of those "Only in Swaziland" insights.

Another Snake Story

February 1st, 2012 1 comment

I know our parents probably don’t like my snake stories very much – they would probably prefer not to think about the reptilian risks associated with our location.  But, the reality is that our life is so normal and boring here that it is the snake stories that remind us of the uniqueness of living in Swaziland.

So here is today’s story:

I was up at our health care office for a data audit from PEPFAR.  Basically, the largest funder of HIV services in Swaziland is the US government and we receive a good portion of our funding from them.  They were coming into town to check to make sure the numbers we submitted could be verified by source documentation.  In other words, it was a pretty important meeting.

When we came into the health care office, we were looking for a quiet place to sit and meet.  I was pretty frustrated because as I was trying to give our guest a quick tour, our health care staff was being very loud and boisterous.  I was a bit disappointed by how unprofessional they were acting.  Well, if you read the title to this post, you can see where this is going.  It turns out everyone was loud and rowdy because they were trying to kill a snouted cobra that had come into the office and made a home  under the desk.

Our data officer (a woman in her 30s)  jumped into the mix, grabbed a weighted stick (called a knobkerrie) and beat the snake to death then turned casually to join us for our meeting.  As we were walking past the office to our meeting room, they were cleaning up the mess and accidently slid the snake right in front of the PEPFAR officer’s foot.

I couldn’t help but crack up laughing because where else would an important meeting with a key funder be interrupted so a meeting participant could kill a cobra in the office. 

Obviously the most important thing is that everyone was safe (which they were) and it was good to know that if there had been a bite, the anti-venom was a few meters down the hallway.  There is actually a good side to things like this happening when our funders are here; it makes them realize that while most of the big wigs work in air conditioned offices in the city, the real work gets down in the bush away from all the amenities. 

In addition to cobras interrupting meetings, we have had financial audits where we have had to shut down the water system to run the office computers on the backup generator because power was out.  We have had site visits rescheduled because a monsoon caused torrential rain to wash out the road.  We have been delayed to workshops because of cattle crossings…

… it is all part of a day’s work!

Categories: Swaziland Tags: , ,

2011 Year in Review (AKA: US to Swaziland in 5 years or less)

January 14th, 2012 3 comments

The coming of a new year gives us a reason to reflect on the year that was. Inevitably, we notice how fast time goes by and how, in a relatively short time, so much can change. That notion of mutability was amplified for us in 2011.

One year ago, my wife Beth and I both had jobs we loved. We lived in a comfortable house in a quiet sub-division where we knew our neighbors. We had a great support network of friends and family. We drove cars that were paid off. Our daughter had every luxury a one-year old could want. Heck, one year ago, there was probably snow on the ground, Christmas candy on the table, a Netflix movie streaming over the Internet and left over food from our favorite restaurants in the fridge.

Today, as I am writing this reflection, I am sitting in the dark because a summer storm has knocked electricity out. My whole family is sweating because it hit the high 90s today and the humidity is unbearable. My back hurts from cutting the grass with a glorified machete. Going to town today to get our mail and groceries meant 30 minutes on dirt roads through the bush and then another 10-15 on “tar roads.” We are still mourning the loss of our dog that was killed by a 7’ black mamba. Everywhere around us people are dying of HIV, TB and neglect.

One year ago we lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Today we live in Swaziland, Africa. And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing.

In January of last year Beth was teaching, I was preaching, Mikayla was playing and life seemed normal. By March we had begun selling our stuff, saying the first of our goodbyes, making last minute arrangements and preparing for a huge transition. In July, everything we ever owned was either sold, stored, loaned out or in our suitcases and we would spend 72 traveling from the life as we knew it to the bush of Swaziland. A month later we had taken in two TB positive twins as foster parents, had experienced oppressive heat of the Swaziland lowveld, and begun to learn what it means to live in a new culture. By the end of the year, while still far from full adjusted, we had begun to accept our new normal.

Snow day 051 
January in the States

Mbabane and Mountains 150 
December in Swaziland

Suburbia to Savannah in a year may sound like an incredibly quick transition, but in reality it was the culmination of nearly 5 years of planning, praying and preparing. In 2007, Beth and I began to take inventory of our lives and started talking about our long term goals. Up until then, our lives had floated along a very positive trajectory; we were very happy with the way our lives were turning out, even if we weren’t overt about planning. But, slowly we realized that all the things in life we wanted to do could not co-exist. We could not commit to staying in Bowling Green to make a difference while also talking about pursuing Ph.Ds at distant colleges. We couldn’t talk about living overseas while also talking about living in intentional community with our friends. Simply put, we had to make a decision about which direction our lives would take in the coming years.

You would think a big decision like that would be difficult, but it only took one conversation over dinner to decide that at some point in our lives, while we raised our kids who were yet to come, we wanted to experience life outside the United States. I think even early on we realized that it was not important to have all the details figured out, but rather we had to know what general direction we were headed and then be faithful in pursuing it.

Over the next several years we researched opportunities, got in contact with people on the ground doing ministry, and gradually allowed our future to be shaped. It was a lesson in balancing intentionality with ambiguity. We had to learn how to stay on course pursuing a reality that we did not yet understand. We had to be bold in making decisions, but humble in allowing those decisions to change if needed. Slowly, as the details came into focus, we began planning for a life in Swaziland, Africa.

In July of 2010, Beth and I flew to Swaziland and met with over 20 individuals and organizations. Our goal was not to find a job, but to see what sort of work was going on and where we might fit into it. At the conclusion of the trip we were more confident than ever that we were on the right track in moving to Africa, but completely unsure of where we would end up. Once again, we continued planning, even if we didn’t know the details.

In October we were offered positions at Cabrini Ministries (http://www.cabriniministries.org)  in the St. Philips. The irony is that St. Philips is in the lowveld bush; that means it is in the middle of nowhere and ridiculously hot. We had intentionally avoided researching any opportunities in the lowveld because of the environment. However, when Cabrini offered us the positions, we realized that even if the location was not right, the place was perfect. It offered housing, paid a modest salary, was a safe place to raise a family, and provided the opportunity to live immersed in Swazi culture. Most importantly, it was a place where good work was being done that we could be a part of and the skills we brought were exactly what they needed.

In July 2011, when we finally arrived, we realized very quickly that the faithfulness and diligence of our preparation had paid off. When we began looking to live overseas, we wanted to be a part of restorative work that was driven by community needs and assets. We also wanted to head to place where we could be shaped as individuals and a family. We certainly found both. Here at Cabrini we are in one of the most forgotten areas of the country all of our work is dedicated to serving the needs geographically around us. We have an HIV infection rate of nearly 40% and nearly half of children under 18 are either classified as orphans or vulnerable children. In response to this Cabrini offers a full-service HIV/TB clinic and a child care program that includes 7 levels of care from comprehensive residential care to one-time needs assistance. Last year over 2,000 people received direct care or treatment support from the organization. One of the most phenomenal things is that most of our staff began as clients and have been capacitated to do the work needed. For instance, our current database administrator was left for dead on her homestead dying of HIV and TB and was slowly nursed back to health by our nursing staff. 2 years ago she had never seen a computer and now she manages a healthcare database that is more robust than what the government hospital runs! Of our 55 staff members, all but 3 are from Africa, and 44 of them are from within 25 miles of Cabrini.

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Cabrini’s Staff

In looking back at the transition we have gone through, it is easy to make things sound much more incredible than they really are. I can make the Kickert’s sound like heroes, but the reality is that most of the time, life is pretty mundane. On one hand crazy things happen here all the time (we have had two black mambas and a cobra killed within a couple yards of our front door in the last week), but then when I look at my actual day, I spend most of it behind a computer writing grant reports or doing IT work. Sometimes we spend 25% of our time without electricity, but we have decent access to internet. There are days where I may be in a national level planning meeting, only to come home and find that I have to chase cattle out of the garden. Last night Beth cooked cookies for the “Ambassador” to the EU (European Union) while I spent hours formatting report documents. I learned real quick that I can’t take myself too seriously.

A lot has happened in the last year, but all of it has been part of a dynamic yet consistent movement in our lives. Some people move overseas with only a few months notice; it took us 5 years. The hard part has not been the transition, it has been staying on course even when there isn’t a lot of action.

I have no idea what the next year or the next 5 years will hold for us, but I am confident it too will part of this direction we have been heading in for quite some time.

-bk

Cutting the Grass the Old Fashioned Way

January 12th, 2012 1 comment

When we first came to Swaziland, I found it odd that Swazis tended to get rid of all the grass in their yards, preferring instead to have "swept dirt."  That didn’t make sense to me since people in the US spend thousands on keeping their yards neat and green.

But, the first time I cut the grass the way most Swazis do (with a machete-like tool called a "slasher") I quickly understood the appeal of dirt.

Here is a video of me giving it my best at Swazi lawn care.

 

It is a short video because as soon as Beth started filming, I had to take a break!

Private Surgery

December 5th, 2011 1 comment

Many of our friends and family members have expressed concern about the quality of health care here in Swaziland, so I wanted to do a quick post to set their minds at ease.  Most people are aware that here on the mission we actually have two clinics: one specializing in HIV / TB and another that deals with general health issues / maternity / etc.  We have 8 nurses that live within a few hundred feet of us and a doctor who works with our clinic.  This is by far the closest we have ever been to basic medical care and assistance.

But, if that was not enough, we recently discovered a place within 20 minutes of that offers private surgery if we should ever need it:

Private Surgery

With a facility this close and convenient, we might just have to undergo some elective surgery.  I am sure it is cheap and we could always use a good appendectomy or lobotomy!

 

 

 

NOTE: This is obviously written tongue in cheek… but in all honesty, we do have access to surgical services within an hour of us, and "first world medicine" is available just across the South African border.

New Address

December 2nd, 2011 2 comments

Yesterday I took (most of) a day off from work to take care of a few personal items that have been lingering on my to-do list.  Included in that was finally setting up a Swazi bank account (so I can officially be paid), and also getting our own P.O. Box.  You are probably not worried about my bank details (and If you are, I am worried about that!) but I am sure all 3 of my dedicated blog readers (Thanks Mom!) will be interested in our new address.  So here it is:

     ATTN: Ben and Beth Kickert
     Cabrini Ministries
     P.O. Box 439
     Siphofaneni, M214
     Swaziland

You can still send us mail to the Manzini address, but this will help separate our personal stuff from business mail.  Please remember to write "OVC DONATIONS" on any packages to help us cut down on taxes.

So far, the mail has proven to be very reliable.  Letters out of here have been arriving in 8-10 days and things shipped from the States have been getting here within two weeks.  Since we are dealing with a new Post Office, I don’t know if things will change, but I am good reason to believe the service will still be excellent.  Plus, this will make it easier to pick up our mail on an ongoing basis.

Categories: Swaziland Tags: , , ,