The VAGH group went to church service this morning. Though Christian, the service was very representative of Swazi culture. Unlike in the First Baptist church services I attended growing up, we were on our feet for most of this service. The energy I felt while dancing and singing hymnals and songs in Siswati, reminded me of the energy I felt in southern black churches. Many individuals, including my new friend Tyson Mkoko and my professor Jonathan Smith, stood at the podium and spoke very passionately about the community. However, the church’s pastor gave the most memorable message of the weekend – “Unani? What do you have?”
The pastor repeated Unani throughout the service, sometimes shouting while enthusiastically waving his arms and other times very quietly which forced the audience to lean in and listen. Toward the end of the service, I thought about what ‘unani’ meant to me especially regarding this weekend. Obviously, my ability to attend the VAGH study abroad, to visit Johannesburg, and to stay in Kashoba demonstrates how lucky I am. Few people from southwest Georgia are able to travel to Africa through their university. For these opportunities that I have stumbled upon, I am grateful.
An important takeaway from the weekend came from a conversation I shared with Tyson and Kellen last night. In that conversation, Tyson told Kellen and me about his experiences growing up while his dad had TB and HIV. Tyson faced many difficulties for a long time that reminded me of my senior year of high school when I took care of my grandfather in the fall and my mom in the spring. While that was a very hard time for me, Tyson’s situation lasted a much longer time and made me grateful that I only had to do that for one year. I hold a lot of respect for Tyson because of his experiences and the way he has taken on responsibility in his life.
I also remember the way in which Mr. and Mrs. Mkoko along with the rest of the Kashoba community embraced the VAGH group with open arms. Kellen and I stayed at the home of Mr. Mkoko’s neighbor who gave us his bed. The group danced with the community in traditional Kashoba attire, attended church (despite the short notice of arriving guests) and ate plenty of food. The way the Kashoba community received us reminds me of my communities back home. From the Boy Scouts to my family, I have always had plenty of support in everything that I have done. These communities embraced me and uplifted me wholeheartedly no matter what and I would not be where I am right now without them. When I think about ‘what I have,’ I’m very happy that I have always had communities that allow me to be who I am.