AIDS Walk Africa 2008: Day 1
June 30, 2008
AIDS Walk Africa 2008: Virtual Walk
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5
By Heather Mason Kiefer
Photos by Jon Hrusa
AIDS Walk Africa 2008 has officially begun in the Kingdom of Swaziland, but in many ways it feels more like Switzerland. It's winter in Southern Africa and the weather is crisp and cool – a high of 70 degrees with hardly a cloud in the sky. Our hotel, the Timbali Lodge, is a collection of white cabins with green roofs, ringed by mountains. The setting couldn’t be more perfect for walking.
This year's walkers get to know each other at the orientation session at the Timbali Lodge in the Ezulwini Valley near Mbabane, Swaziland.
It takes two full days to travel to Swaziland from the U.S. and walkers were still trickling in this afternoon. Many of them hardly had time to put down their bags and have a quick bite before orientation began.
We gathered around the crystal blue pool (too cold to swim in at this time of year, sadly), which was surrounded by palm trees and flaming orange bougainvillea. Foundation Vice President Suzy Mink welcomed the group and introduced Logistics Coordinator Chris Kibuku, who delivered a quick introduction to Swaziland and briefly explained the itinerary of the walk. He encouraged us to soak in Swaziland’s beauty rather than snapping photographs. “Take the pictures in your mind,” Chris said.
Walk coordinator Jeffery Lowery presented us with walking sticks, made by hand from Swazi wood by our “first responder” support team. We’re going to need them for the steep Swazi hills! We then heard from our native Swazi guide John Magagula, who described the customs and culture of Swaziland. We learned that the King of Swaziland has 14 wives and 11 palaces, a few of which we might see along the way this week.
Foundation CEO Pam Barnes took the floor as the walkers received their second gift of the afternoon – colorful handmade candles from a local craft market. “These candles represent the spirit of the Swazi people, as well as your own,” Pam said. “Each time you light it, remember the spirit that you brought in, and the spirit you took out, of this country.”
Then came the highlight of the afternoon: a performance from a dance troop of young girls called “Kip-Kip.” The girls, decked out in the colors of the Swazi flag, performed a modern rendition of traditional Swazi dance, kicking their legs impossibly high while smiling from ear to ear. We were enchanted, and gave each of the girls a T-shirt donated by the hip clothing designer Michael Stars.
Dancers from the Kip-Kip Dance Group entertain the walkers during the orientation session.
Walker Manuela McDonough gives a Michael Stars T-shirt to one of the dancers.
We went back to our rooms to freshen up, then headed to the large thatched-roof “boma” at the center of the lodge for the opening reception and dinner. Dr. Samuel Magugula, deputy director of clinical services for the Swazi Ministry of Health (MOH), emceed the event and praised the Foundation for its work fighting HIV/AIDS in Swaziland. Mary Pat Kieffer, the Foundation’s country director in Swaziland, discussed the Foundation’s partnership with the MOH. “The kind of partnership we have with the Ministry is what makes change happen,” said Mary Pat.
When Pam’s turn came to speak, she reminded the crowd of the gravity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Swaziland. Approximately 26 percent of the adult population, and 39 percent of pregnant women, are living with of HIV. “But we are making progress here in Swaziland,” Pam told the walkers. “Each and every step along the way, I want you to remember that progress."
The AIDS Walk 2008 opening reception.
Keynote speaker Dr. Mobuza, the Director of Health Services for the Swaziland Ministry of Health, closed out the evening and wished the walkers good luck on their journey. “The 2008 AIDS Walk Africa is now launched!” said Dr. Mobuza. With that in mind, we headed to bed for a good night’s sleep. We’ll be ready for our 6:00 a.m. wake-up calls.