Snippets of a Swaziland Childhood
I've never been a big one for heading back into the past. I have always been too busy planning for (or worrying about) the future. I have often experienced nostalgia as more melancholy than a joyful remembering. Somehow my mind trained itself to hold onto the more difficult, less enchanting memories, which meant I'd generally avoid it altogether, leaving me a kind of orphan of my past and of my family history. But in exploring the Greek Muses (see endnotes below) and being introduced to Mnemosyne – Muse of Memory, and now Clio, Muse of History, I was catapulted back into my past and found a treasure chest of fun and adventure.
I grew up in Swaziland, now Eswatini, in a small village called Mhlume. My father worked in the Sugar Mill there, and my mom was Mom. In those days, "expat wives" weren't allowed to work as anything other than teachers or doctors, and so my mom put all her energy into bringing up my brother and me. This meant everything from making the best packed lunches to putting boxing gloves on us when things got heated (that ended the argument in seconds) to getting my brother and me out of multiple potentially life-threatening youthful attempts at adventure. My brother once went gleefully tubing down a canal with mate in tow that would have ended with them being sucked into an underground water pipe and drowned if my mother hadn't driven past, called Dad to check, and then come back and hauled them out. I once jumped off the branch of a garden Pine tree with an umbrella thinking I might take off into the skies like Mary Poppins, and another time, on a school trip, got lost in a game reserve, alone. But for the most part, our adventure wasn't dangerous, just the active, outdoors, dirt-is-good kind.
We had treehouses, a massive garden (with fairies, I was certain), bicycles, skateboards and a swimming pool. We'd bike everywhere around the village – to the shops for sweets, to friends houses and to the country club where all sorts happened. Sports, Karate classes, dances, kids parties, you name it, it happened at the club, it's even where Father Christmas showed up in parade every year.
There was also Sand River Dam, where we'd spend weekends swimming, skiing, playing ball games on the shore and picnicking.
And I used to ride horses with a friend often after school and on weekends. We'd go cantering through the sugarcane or jumping over wooden fences on the Polo field. We'd feed and brush them and muck out the stables - I can still smell the sweet combination of fresh hay, horse dung and the leathery, sweaty smell of the saddle when we pulled it off after a ride.
We'd make secret forts in any place worthy of fort making, with thorns laid out at the entrance to stop anyone unwanted entering (that'd do it, right?).
For holidays Dad, Mom, my brother and me would visit Kruger National Park, just north of Swaziland and through the border. I was still a bit young in the beginning, and I was initially more excited about the sweets at the next stop than the lions lazing on the side of the road (I was four years old when we first started visiting). That quickly changed, though, and it became a peaceful, wondrous experience, each time new, an emersion into a world of wildness and endless discovery. We'd sit for an age, engine-off, watching a troop of baboons, fascinated by their antics until my brother or me (usually me) needed to pee, and we'd have to drive on. We'd sit at water holes and in bird hides for hours, with only a pair of binocs and a bird book (no cell phones then, thankfully). Just watching the comings and goings, deciding which bird it was or if the strip in the water was a log or a crocodile.
These events of my past shaped a connection to nature, joy, adventure, friendship, and family that weave threads through my life today. In journeying back into these memories and just tiny bits of the history of events in my life, I notice how deeply embedded these bonds are in the person I live today and how these experiences are like a magnet, pulling me towards similar one's now. And I am left nestling in the thought of how the joyful events of a childhood well remembered can lend themselves beautifully to a life well-lived.
This piece of writing forms part of a series inspired by a nine-month-long course I am doing, led by Judy Bekker and Kerry Sandison; Dancing with the 9 Muses, inspired by the book by Angeles Arrien, "The Nine Muses, A Mythological Path to Creativity." This one born from Clio, Greek Goddess of History and Writing.
Photo: My beautiful mother dressed in Swazi traditional dress.
© Probably my Dad!
Canna Avenue, Mhlume, Swaziland (Eswatini)
Sometime in the 80's.