Gugu Mamba this post is dedicated to you. Thanks for making me feel at home.
I think the hardest part about being a Peace Corps Volunteer thus far is balancing self. By that it’s understanding who you are in accordance to the current cultural norms in which you have chosen to live under for the next two years but still staying true to who you are. It’s truly a balancing act and as exhausting as it can be at times to strip away your self, to take on a new name and the ultimate identity as A Peace Corps Volunteer its worth it. Its officially been six months into my journey and walking the tight rope hasn’t been as much of a balancing act as it started out to be. I told myself that this is truly a cultural exchange and as much as I find myself altering my dress, behavior and voice at times I also find myself being unapologetic about who I am and what I believe in the process.
In my community I’ve become really close with a woman who I call sisi. She is the daughter of the community runner and is such a genuine and vibrant spirit to be around. She’s helped me so much in understanding Swazi culture and acclamating myself within the community. I’ve also served as her sort of Wikipedia to American culture if I do say so myself. Shes so interested in what my life was like before I decided to drop everything to answer the call to service.
I can remember the first day we met as I nervously visited her homestead with my counterpart. Ekhaya I yelled which is customary when entering someone’s homestead. It’s a way of alerting them of your presence. I greeted her in my broken siswati with assistance from my counterpart. She then began speaking full out siswati only to be told by my counterpart that I was actually American. The look on her face was priceless. It was a mixture of disbelief, confusion, excitement and ultimately curiosity. Although I couldn’t respond I understand many of the questions that flowed from her mouth like the way the water often times squirks out rapidly fdom the bohole (water tap) when you first open it. She began asking questions like: Are you sure? But her hair is like ours (in reference to my locs), But she speaks siswati (guess my greeting was just that good), etc. Then after shes done with her questions, she looks to me and introduces her same in perfect english. “Hello Nosmilo. My name is Gugu and you are my sister” (not literally but because we share the same surname of Mamba we are seen as sisters in Swazi culture).
Most days we lie together on the grassmat of her homestead under the jacaranda tree and just chat about life and all the possibilities for growth and projects within the community. She gives me hope that I can do this thing called Peace Core.
Just recently I started wearing more clothing items that reveal my tattoos. I was tired of feeling like I had to cover up and also it’s the dead heat of summer so cardigans are not an option. I told myself that ultimately despite my tattoos or way in which I choose to live people are going to like me for me. So of course Gugu says to me one day, “Hey Nosmilo I noticed you have tattoos. How come?” And of course I tell her my reasoning and how tattoos aren’t seen as a big deal in America. She was shocked. Lol she told me that in Swaziland that if you have tattoos than people assume that you’ve done time in jail. She then looks to me and laughs and then says “well I’m certain you havent done any time in jail so you are alright lol. Next we discussed my nose ring and she explained that people who wear nose rings are seen as Satanist. We both paused for a while and burst out in deep laughter. I replied so you think I’m a satirist? She laughs and replies of course not. You are my sister. It’s in these conversations where I feel free to be myself. Unafraid of what people will say and unapologetic in my convictions around who I am.
So who is Nosmilo Mamba?, I still sometimes ask myself. Shes the swazi version of Akirah. A ligusha and lipalishi eating, people lover, laughter enthuist, youth worker from Jersey who’s Queening in the magical kingdom of Swaziland. I’m enjoying the journey and taking it one day at a time. I remind myself that its not a Sprint but yet a marathon and I’m pacing myself, beinf interntional and staying present in the moment.