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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 77, Number 2 (Jan. 1976)

Hansen, Barbara E.
In a bright corner,   pp. 12-15


Page 12


By Barbara E. Hansen '74                                                
   Observations by an alumna in Swaziland.
    Living in a mining town in pine-
 covered mountains is the last thing I
 expected to be doing in Africa.
 When I signed up for a two-year
 stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I
 thought it would be a long time
 before I encountered those cold, crisp,
 pine-scented Wisconsin nights. But
 I was wrong about that and many
 other typically American illusions of
 Africa. Perhaps somewhere on this
 huge continent Conrad's Africa still
 exists. But I came to Swaziland where
 there is a curious combination of
 modern and traditional values.
   When we arrived fourteen months
 ago, we had an eerie feeling that we
 had been tricked: that we were actu-
 ally in some Disneyesque portion
 of the States. We still fondly call
 this "Quasiland" although we know
 now that we are actually in Africa, in
 a tiny kingdom bordered by Mozam-
 bique on the northeast and by the
 Republic of South Africa on the other
 three sides. It is this geographical
 arrangement, plus the fact that
 Swaziland was a British protectorate
 until. 1968, that accounts for the
 strong European influence here. I
 live in Bulembu, an asbestos-mining
 town in the northwest corner of the
 country, near the South African
 border. Here I teach science and
 math to 250 students at the secondary,
 or junior high, level. This country is
 rich in natural resources, and iron ore
 mining, cane plantations, and forestry
 fuel the economy, supplying jobs
 and facilities for thousands of Swazis.
   I had thought that surely I would
be living in the "bush" and lugging
water from a stream a mile away.
While many volunteers do live like
that, I am fortunate to have a three-
bedroom house, in a pine and euca-
lyptus woods, with a large yard
and garden. The view is arresting-
Mt. Bulembu. At 6000 feet it is a
mound of browns and greens in an
ever-changing panorama. My house is
equipped with indoor plumbing,
electricity (so while my two Danish
roommates and I dress, we can enjoy
the tunes of Joni Mitchell), a gas
stove, as well as a coal stove to fire
the hot water tank. It is much nicer
than I ever expected, and certainly a
12
huge improvement over campus
housing.
    A typical day starts at 6:30 with
 our rooster informing us that morning
 has begun. After coffee and toast,
 there is a last-minute scramble for
 books and pens and then we're off for
 another eight-to-four day. We live
 on the outskirts; school is about a
 fifteen-minute walk through town. We
 greet the Swazis with "Sawubond"
 (hello) as we pdss the golf course
 which belongs to both the mine-owned
 country clubs. (This is a holdover
 from earlier days; one club is predomi-
 nantly white while the other is all
 black except for my friend, Erik, who
 was anonymously made a member.
 Both clubs use the course, and each
 has its own tennis courts, pool,
 bowling green, bar and cinema. There
 are several clubs in this country, as
 well as a Holiday Inn and gambling
 casino, the last things I wanted to
 see here). Past the golf course we
 walk down a muddy little hill into
 the "compound"-the miners' hous-
 ing. Ori a hill of slag facing the omni-
 present mine are row upon row of
 pink, yellow, and blue cement houses.
 Each has indoor plumbing and a
 coal stove. Coal, wood and free
 medical services are supplied by the
 mine. Thus, the standard of living is
 higher here in Bulembu than in much
 of the rest of the country, where
 most of the population are subsistence
 level farmers on their kraals (Afri-
 caans for corral) growing maize and
 grazing cattle, sheep and goats. So
 a solid roof overhead, fair wages,
 plumbing, nearby medical services
 and a free primary school is a pretty
 good deal. For all of the racial under-
 tones in this town the mine seems
 to have a vital interest in its workers.
 Besides providing a building for a
 branch-of the public library, it has
 given our impoverished government
 school free use of the sports equip-
 ment, movie projector and duplicating
 machine. All in all, it seems a some-
 what better situation than that of any
 company town in the States thirty
 years ago.
 In spite of the company-town
 setting, the Swazi community seems
to have it together. As we walk
Hansen
through the compound we are greeted
in siSwati and English from all sides.
The pre-schoolers are very proud
to be able to say "Goot mawning,
teachah," while their mothers test our
minimal siSwati and giggle at our
mispronunciations. They seem to
appreciate us no end, perhaps be-
cause of a strong respect for teachers
in general, or maybe it is because
we are the only whites in town to
walk through the compound and be
openly friendly with them. Whatever
the reason, they've made us feel a
part of the community, for which we
are most grateful.
   It isn't unusual to see many of the
people here in traditional dress. For
the women this consists of the
emahiya, several layers of brightly
colored border prints wrapped around
the body and tied at the shoulder,
toga style. Beaded jewelry is very
popular, especially around the neck
and ankles. It is customary for
married women to cover their hair,
otherwise it is fluffed into huge bee-
hives and decorated with colored
plastic barrettes. The younger girls
usually plait their hair after the
fashion of American blacks. (Ameri-
can blacks got it from Northern
Africa. It is not a traditional style
here and these girls picked it up from
fashion magazines). The afro is
rarely seen, and children usually
have their heads shaved every few
By Barbara E. Hansen '74
Observations by an alumna in Swaziland.


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