Neli is the girl in the middle. She is one of the very first students that our family met in 1999, when we first visited this rural area of Swaziland. Neli is seen here with her younger brother and sister. Through Swazi Kids Society, we, paid for he education from grades 7-12. I show you this to demonstrate not just the clothing on a sponsored child, but the sense of self confidence that you can see even in a simple photograph.
When we met her, Neli’s father had recently passed away. He had abandoned the family 7 years prior, to go and work in the gold mines in South Africa. Just before my first visit, he had returned empty handed, shoe-less and penniless, to die at home. His wife wore black and did so for a full year after his death.
New to this part of the world, I struggled with this on so many levels. How could a father leave his family and not support them or return? Why would he come back at the end, terminally ill, just to die with the wife and 5 children he had deserted? Why would his wife take him back in? Why would she wear black for a year to honour his passing?
On these cultural, contextual and deeper issues, I find it’s far better to keep one’s mouth shut, rather to look and listen instead. We can’t go into these countries and communities with our western views of how it should be. It does us or them no good to challenge and work from some place of moral high ground.
I have some answers now, after having traveled there for so long. The simplest answer is that it is none of my business. These are traditions passed down and change, if at all, will only come slowly, over time and from within and not because some energetic white woman thinks it should be different.