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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 15


ridiculous. Now that I've gotten them
to speak up, I sometimes wish they
would pipe down. Disciplining them
used to be hard for me, since the
method employed here is a thorough
thrashing with a stick across the
hands. They all knew I was too soft
to ever use the stick myself-to
hear them cry would turn my
stomach. But children expect to
be punished this way, and the pain
is momentary. It is much worse to have
to stay after school and work, espe-
cially to do something as humiliating
as cleaning the toilets. Cleaning is
"women's work" and since the
most frequent offenders are males,
this is a fate worse than death. And
they will say anything to talk their
way out of it. One indignant young
male claimed he couldn't possibly
sweep the floor since the King had
decreed that no men ever should.
   Displays of affection between the
 sexes are frowned upon, but it is
 not unusual to see a boy grab a girl's
 breast in a gesture very similar to
 a slap on the bottom in our culture.
 Large breasts are a sign of beauty
 and need not be covered, although
 legs should be. When I wear a long
 skirt of Swazi cloth the women
 openly express approval, not so much
 in my choice of material, but for
 the discreet length chosen. And
 when I commented to the primary
 school teachers that their students
 always called me "sir," it was ex-
 plained that it is because "you have
 no breasts." This brought peals of
 laughter in the staffroom and a good
 deal of maligned blushing on my
 part. But while it is true that I
 resemble Twiggy more than Mae
 West in this respect, it hasn't stopped
 hundreds of Swazi men of all ages
 (and all complete strangers) from
 stopping on the street and asking
 me to marry them. As an educated
 rich American I am probably worth
 at least fifty cows, a kind of "security
 deposit" the groom gives the bride's
 parents. My answer is "suka" (get
 lost) which they find exceedingly
 funny. Once when walking alone, I
 met a man who drew his forefinger
 across his windpipe in the slit-your-
 throat style. I nervously greeted him
A "'gogo"--middle-aged woman of
the village.
and quickened my pace. Later I was
relieved to find out that this means
"I am dying with love for you."
   Wild animals and dread diseases
are part of the mystique of Africa.
Because this country is largely
agrarian, there are few wild animals
roaming the countryside. Supposedly
there are some baboons, leopards
and impala in this area, but I've seen
only one impala fawn in the months
I've been up here. In fact, the stu-
dents have rarely seen any. There
is a small game preserve here, but
most people infrequently travel
far from home. Many of my students
have never been to Mbabane, the
capital city (pop. 15,000), which
they think is the center of the universe.
As volunteers we are riddled with
shots against various illnesses, but
these are mainly to protect us from
infections in neighboring countries.
Swaziland is one of the cleanest
countries I have ever visited.
   One of our illusions of Africa still
 exists, and that is witchcraft. There
 are two types of medicine men.
 Miss Hansen, of Madison, majored in
 medical microbiology here at the Uni-
 versity. She finishes her tour of duty
 with the Peace Corps this month.
The herbalist can tell your fortune
and give you all kinds of medicines,
to cure everything from a tooth-
ache to a nosebleed. Most of it comes
from roots or bark, and I don't
doubt that it is effective. But the
man who really holds the power is
the witchdoctor. He can cast spells and
sometimes will borrow a portion of
a person's anatomy to make muti
(medicine). Muti deaths are still
prevalent, although the government
is trying to stamp them out. Any
death is considered to be caused by
the supernatural powers, but in the
case of a mysterious death, the
witchdoctor'is consulted as to the
cause. He usually points a finger at
one of a number of people and the
family of the deceased deals with
the suspect accordingly.
   Life here is never dull. There are
 always surprises, most of which *are
 amusing. Whether riding the bus
 (a twelve-mile trip takes forty-five
 minutes), making a phone call (it is
 quicker to call the States than the
 nearest town) or trying to complete
 a transaction at the bank, there is
 a slow-moving geniality that drove
 me crazy at first. But when I realized
 that I was the only one in a hurry,
 I decided to relax and do things
 Swazi style. There is always time.
 time to stop and chat, time to share
 tea, time to enjoy the happy quiet
 life of the people.
   Things are no longer strange.
 Walking into class here is as normal
 to me now as walking into Bascom
 Hall used to be. Perhaps it's just
 that I've become accustomed to a
 new life-style, but I'd like to think the
 strangeness I first felt was in my
 head and not in their culture. These
 people, the landscape and the social
 structure are not so radically different
 from any small town in the U.S.
 Cultural exchange is one of the
 goals of the Peace Corps. But these
 people have influenced me far more
 than I could ever hope to change
 them. Economically they may still
 have problems. Yet it is refreshing to
 meet a people with their tradition
 and integrity intact, while striving
 for a better life for their nation.
                                    15
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