As the border drew closer, the bus was enveloped in a thick layer of fog. Through the mist laden windshield, two small buildings emerged ahead and Elliot brought the bus to a stop. The border. All passports were collected and the group disembarked to walk through the check station. Elliot, who makes this drive multiple times a week and knows the border staff, took the group documents and scurried inside to get the process moving. It is a two step process at the border, you must officially leave South Africa, drive through to the Swaziland side, and then officially enter Swaziland. This is all done in two small unassuming buildings and there can be a long wait. Fortunately, Elliot worked his magic and the group headed out past the first of many small market stands on the other side of the border and descended into the country of Swaziland.
The fog held, thick and wet as they made their way down the mountain and into Ezulwini, a small tourist driven area with shops and restaurants. They grabbed a quick bite at, yes, another Mugg and Bean, and took a short drive up to the cultural center. The fog descended further and coupled with a light rain. Some might have called it gloomy but it was welcomed by the woman and her daughter. It reminded them of the thick marine layer that would roll in every morning and evening when they lived along the coast, draping their world in a wet blanket.
The cultural center is set up as an historical Swazi homestead and brings to life the tribal roots that are the Swazi heritage. There was colorful singing to tell the stories of their tribal lives and powerful drumming invoking the start and celebration of the hunt. The women and men were dressed in traditional tribal garb, very colorful and nothing like anything the teenager had ever seen in America. She smiled and waited for the show to begin.
The teenager sat in the front row and was thrilled with the melodic singing, smiling broadly as she enjoyed the beautiful harmonies that were drifting by. This was nothing like her choir back at home, this seemed effortless, as if the music was just a part of their beings. There was silence and then a drum, accompanied by whistles and shouts, marked the beginning of the hunt. The drums were loud and reverberated through the woman and teenager so that they could feel the beat of the drum pulsing along side their own heartbeat. A man seperated himself from the dance and approached the teenager, gently laying down a stick in front of her. He stared at her, as if waiting for her response. The teenager, being quite shy, blushed and looked away. He picked up the stick and made his way back to the group to continue the dance. The woman and teenager shared a slight giggle and shrug of their shoulders, not knowing what just happened. Little did the teenager know that she was now marked.
The singing and dancing continued, with even an appearance by the medicine man. As the last set began, the man approached the teenager again and offered his hand. The teenager looked to the woman, not knowing what to do.
“I think he wants you to go with him.”
“What do I do?”
“Go ahead, go with him.”
The teenager extended her hand and he pulled her up with the rest of the dancers. She glanced back briefly but her attention shifted as he began to teach her some dance steps. Others from the group had been singled out as well and they all smiled and giggled as they took part in the show. The sitting group encouraged greatly with much clapping and hollering, secretly thankful that they had not been chosen. The song was over and the show came to a close. The woman and teenager both agreed that this was one of their favorite things so far on the trip. They took a small guided tour of the village and began a short walk up to the waterfalls, about a half mile up the river. Monkeys crossed the trail ahead and ran for cover in the dense foliage as the group passed. The woman stood and watched as the monkey perched himself on a wet branch and looked back curiously.
As the sun set for the day, the group drove into Manzini and settled into the guest house where they would be staying. After three days of travel the group was a little rough around the edges. The woman and teenager unpacked as if they were moving in and then sought out a place where the wi-fi would work so they could finally communicate with home.