So we rented a car and were on our way. Ali was driving. I must say she dealt really well with the whole driving on the left side of the road thing. I was impressed. Especially because I still consistently look the wrong way when I cross the road. Or just look like a confused chicken.
As we got to the designated meeting point, it didn’t take us long to pinpoint the other tourists who had signed up for this adventure (not that difficult to spot): a young American professor (Jason) and a much older American couple who live in New Zealand and travel around the world on their yacht (Ellen and George). Our tour guide came about 15 minutes late, barefoot and smelling slightly like beer. All I could think was, “Wow. This is going to be an experience and a half.” Turns out he grew up in a remote rural area playing with Zulu kids, thus learning to speak their language and understand their culture. And he never wears shoes.
So we get to the festival and the line up to get into the fenced park area goes on for miles. Our tour guide decisively buds our whole group of 7 right at the front. Ali and I being from Canada felt very uncomfortable with this. But all the Zulu people waiting in line didn’t really seem to mind. There were two lines: one for men and one for women. The women line moved a lot quicker and me, Ali and Ellen soon found ourselves without a tour guide. We also soon discovered that we were the only tourists at the festival. This was definitely not a tourist attraction but a way for Zulus to celebrate their culture. A larger Zulu woman very quickly took ownership of the female members of our group and directed us into the park. She made sure nobody budded in front of us and we weren’t trampled by the group carrying sticks that bravely marched in between the male and female lines and entered the park.
Each person entering the park was given a Styrofoam contained with food (roasted chicken), a juice box and a newspaper. There were people sitting on the ground enjoying their meals. Every once in a while groups of people wearing their traditional costumes and carrying sticks and shields would enter the park and charge. Our tour guide explained that each group comes from a different area and is expected to present itself in front of the Zulu king. He told us that if there is a group charging we should just stand still, instead of trying to get out of their way. It was very overwhelming. I felt completely out of place.
It took us quite some time to get our bearings. Our tour guide had told us that the more we are willing to get involved in the festivities, the more we would get out of the experience. I thought he was crazy and could only count down the time before we could leave. Completely the wrong attitude!
I must say, however, that I was nonetheless very intrigued and fascinated by everything that was going on around me. Pretty soon my curiosity took over. There were men and women dressed in traditional costumes. Singing, dancing, charging with their sticks and shields. Young women were dancing with their breasts exposed. Young boys could not keep their eyes off of them. Although speeches were going on, it did not seem that people were really paying attention. Instead they would wait until a group would start dancing and singing and form a group around them to admire their talent and skills. The Zulu style of dance consisted of many high kicks and some booty shaking to the sound of traditional drums and song.
With so much positive energy around us we soon loosened up. Ali wanted to try playing a drum. She wasn’t very good, but she still managed to get a group of people dancing and singing and of course a circle being formed around them.
But it wasn’t until George tried dancing that the fun really began. George, a man likely in his early seventies, decided to find out what would happen if he decided to attempt the high kicks. The reaction was unbelievable!!! All of a sudden a group of hundreds of Zulus ran towards us and formed a circle around him. They were cheering and clapping (and probably laughing). It was absolutely amazing!!! This was probably the biggest circle of the day. Ali and I were laughing so hard we couldn’t even get proper photos of George’s high kicks, which were by the way HIGH! It was only later that we discovered that he used to do kung-fu.
Me being me of course also wanted to get involved. So when a young Zulu woman told me I should go inside the circle it didn’t take me that long to brave up and step right in. Of course I told her to come in with me to show me what to do. The reaction was once again deafening! I must say people were extremely excited that we were partaking in their celebrations. Everyone was clapping and cheering me on! It was amazing!!!
After my dance a young Zulu woman walked by me and patted me on the back saying, “You are Zulu now!”
Going into this experience I must say I was really overwhelmed. There were thousands of people and we had received lots of warnings to be safe. What I did not expect to experience is a group of people who are warm and friendly and welcoming. Everyone was so eager to show us who their people are, where they come from, and what they are all about. Numerous times women would grab my hand and take me to the front of a crowd so that I can see how talented the young dancers are and how beautiful their expression is. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life. And it was completely authentic! It was real!