Monday in a Picture – To Be Wed

A few weeks ago, I was finally able to attend a traditional wedding in Swaziland. This had been on my to-do list, but I knew of no upcoming ceremonies. Another PCV told me that there was a traditional wedding happening soon in her community, and invited me to join the festivities. I accepted. 

Typically, weddings in Swaziland are either traditional weddings (like this one) or white weddings (which are western style weddings done in a church). This traditional Swazi wedding began on Friday evening. The bride’s family gathered and ate at one homestead while the groom’s family gathered and ate at another. I was told that Friday is typically the day that the groom’s family uses to travel to the bride’s family homestead. After feasting, the groom’s family arrived at the bride’s family homestead just after midnight. The wife-to-be danced and sang with other married women. This continued until around 0100. 

The next day, guests started to arrive at the bride’s family homestead in the early afternoon. There was food, traditional home brew beer, and fellowship. By mid afternoon, guests were finding seats under the event tent as the bride and her party began marching in. There were several songs sung accompanied by traditional dances. At times, the bride danced with her entire party. At times, she danced alone. 

After some time, the groom and his party marched in. His party wasn’t as large, and they didn’t do as many traditional dances. At one point, the bride is dancing alone as everyone watches. This was the point in the ceremony where people could pin money onto the bride’s head covering. The singing and dancing continued. At another point, the groom joined the bride for a small, traditional dance. After the bride and groom had finished dancing, others did traditional dances as the bride and groom watched separately. The actual wedding ceremony took about ninety minutes to complete. There were still other things to be done, but the main event was over. 

Swazi marriages represent the beginning and cultivation of a long term relationship between two families. The families (and friends) are there to support this relationship and to enjoy the ceremony was filled with food, fellowship, and merriment. In the picture above, the wedding couple is joined by a member of the groom’s party during a traditional dance. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Sweet Dreams – Shrimp and Cake

Because I am posted in a country where I might contract malaria, I have been given an antimalarial medication called, “Mefloquine”. One of the side effects of this medication is lucid dreaming. The following is what I dreamt last night (as best I can remember). 

There was a seafood restaurant. They had shrimp. There was another seafood place that only had soft shell crab. But they had run out of soft shell crab. I ordered one, and they somehow managed to get it for me. I had to wait for the long bus ride home. 

A few days later, I found out that I would be moving to a house closer to the seafood places. I was excited. The house was similar to a college dorm suite with two people sharing a room on either side of an elaborate kitchen/dining room setup. I didn’t like my roommate because he walked around with a 25 liter jerry can that served as his personal urinal. We had multiple bathrooms in the house. 

Because I now lived closer to the seafood places, I would go there often. Maybe everyday. One day, I saw that they were supposed to have stuffed shrimp. Of course, they had run out by the time I got there. I had to order the regular shrimp. I went to another shop in the vicinity to order cake, but they didn’t have any red velvet cake left. I walked home slightly disappointed that I didn’t have stuffed shrimp and red velvet cake. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – All the Colours

This weekend, some fellow PCVs and I participated in the Star Point Rainbow Dash. This was a 5K (though Garmin recorded just over 3 kilometers) run/hike that supports the Sifundzani Primary School Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), as they support the school’s infrastructure. Hundreds of runners, walkers, and general fun lovers journeyed through Mbabane while being powdered with color. 

It was my first running event in Swaziland, and it definitely proved to be a perfect way to combine fun, fitness, and supporting the children. With Spring upon us in Southern Africa, it’s the season for running events. Last month, another group of Swaziland PCVs participated in a half marathon in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. Next month, Swaziland will host the King’s marathon (with half marathon and 10K options). I’ve been kicking around the idea of trying the 10K. We’ll see what the future holds. 

The top picture features Nicole, Akirah, and me after the run. The bottom picture is of participants after the run continuing the coloring. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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A Personal Touch

Recently, I was in the Peace Corps Swaziland office for a meeting with both local staff and staff from Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington. As myself and other PCVs were introducing ourselves, an HQ staffer mentioned that I looked familiar. I asked where she hung out in DC thinking that we might have run in the same circles. She said that we didn’t know each other from DC. That it was Peace Corps related. She asked if I had been to any of the regional trainings. I told her that I hadn’t. I asked if she possibly knew my twin brother, explaining that we often get mistaken for each other. She was certain that she hadn’t met him. Finally, it clicked. She said, “you have a blog, don’t you?” I proudly responded that I was the human behind whatisKirbydoing.com. We were both satisfied with that solution. 

Hours later as I was reflecting on that interaction, my exchange with the Peace Corps staffer morphed meaning. She felt that she knew me. My blog allowed her to feel like we had connected before. It was in this moment of reflection that I realized that this blog is serving its intended purpose. I wanted this blog project to allow readers to join me on my journey through Peace Corps. This interaction was confirmation of the fulfillment of that purpose. 

I am reminded of a similar interaction from many months ago. A friend from DC mentioned that she enjoyed the blog because she felt like she was here with me. I’m thankful and delighted that this blog has fostered that connection. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Peace Corps Press Corps 

As you know from various posts last week (here and here), Swaziland recently celebrated young maidens (unmarried, childless girls and women) in the Umhlanga (pronounced oom-shlan-ga) ceremony. Umhlanga directly translates into reeds. One of our very own Swaziland PCVs participated this year with the regiment from her community. 

I was asked to document the event for Peace Corps Swaziland. I started preparing by trying to acquire a press pass. After different conversations with staff and other interested parties, I was given the contacts for an administrator of the foundation that supports Umhlanga. The contact, a Swazi prince, was able to provide me with the necessary email addresses and a list of documents that I would need to qualify for the press pass. All of this would have to be done in three days. 

I completed the paperwork and submitted the documentation. Time was passing, and I hadn’t heard anything. Finally, the day came for the maidens to deliver the reeds to the Queen Mother. I contacted the administrator at the foundation and received instructions on how to pick up my press pass. There was some confusion when I went to pick it up, but everything was sorted and I walked away with my very own press pass. 

I walked back to the stadium and joined the other media gathered at the event. As this was my first event as an official member of the media, I imitated the others in my attempt to not draw attention to my inexperience. They took pictures of regiments marching pass. I took pictures of those regiments. They stood behind a certain lamppost. I made sure I didn’t pass that point. Eventually, the king and his regiment arrived. With the wave of a hand, the media was invited over to photograph His Majesty King Mswati III on the red carpet. 

I was able to be on the field as the PCV maiden marched pass with her regiment. I was also able to photograph the regiment of senior princesses among others.

I received my invitation to Peace Corps Swaziland two years ago this month. If anyone would have told me then that I would be getting in high-five distance of and photographing the king, I wouldn’t have entertained the possibility. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by those challenge the notion that anything is impossible. The picture above was taken by Leslie M. as I was about to take pictures on the field. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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P.S. – This is one of the shots that I was able to get while the king was greeting international dignitaries. 

Monday in a Picture – Umhlanga

While today is Labor Day in the US, we’re celebrating a different public holiday in Swaziland. Today is the public holiday of Umhlanga (pronounced oom-shlan-ga), which directly translates into reeds. The cultural event is also known as the Reed Dance. 

While today is the public holiday, the event started last week with the participants registering on Tuesday. Participation is only open to girls and young women who are unmarried and childless. A friend and fellow volunteer here in Swaziland is participating in Umhlanga. You can read more about her participation on her blog. I have learned more about the history, tradition, and logistics of the event as I have documented her participation. 

Last Thursday, the timbali (pronounced tim-bah-lee), which means maidens (and flowers), went to two specified places in Swaziland to cut reeds. Several princesses from the royal residences (who are also timbali) led tens of thousands on a march to the reeds before cutting the first reeds. The reeds were delivered to the queen mother yesterday. Today, the king and general public will watch 80000 maidens do a traditional dance meant to showcase their chastity. 

The above picture was taken as the timbali were preparing to march after cutting the reeds on Thursday. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Swazi Tradition

Last week, Peace Corps Swaziland swore in a new group of volunteers. It was the fifteenth installation of volunteers in the Community Health sector, and the seventh installation of volunteers in the Youth Development sector. The swearing-in ceremony itself is full of pomp and circumstance, with the US ambassador, members of the royal family, and other dignitaries in attendance. 

The evening of swearing-in day plays host to a different tradition. In Swaziland, PCVs (from all cohorts) and friends gather for a night of dancing, merriment, and fellowship at a local bar, aptly named The Pub and Grill. This tradition has been a part of festivities in Swaziland since G10 became volunteers in 2012. 

The above animation is of PCVs and friends dancing the night away last week to one of my favorite Swazi DJs, DJ Mkay.

Congratulations to the newly sworn in volunteers! 

Onward. 
Be kind to yourself. 

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Sweet Dreams – Waiting for POTUS

Because I am posted in a country where I might contract malaria, I have been given an antimalarial medication called, “Mefloquine”. One of the side effects of this medication is lucid dreaming. The following is what I dreamt last night (as best I can remember). 

Somehow, the church that I grew up in was now a school as well. For some reason, I was back there. I think I was working in some capacity in the office. I was infamous for denying the students whatever they wanted. I was the “no” guy. 

There came a time when the pastor of the church/school announced that the President of the US would be visiting the church/school. There were no classes that day, but everyone still came to work because the president was coming. There was a grand entrance hall that had been cleared of everything, presumably by US Secret Service. There were two rooms, one on each side of the grand entrance hall. The church/school staff was in the room on the right. I was in that room. We were all waiting for the president to arrive. The doors to our room were open and we could see the grand entrance hall. 

All of a sudden, the Peace Corps Swaziland Safety and Security Manager comes in to advise us that the president is coming, and closes the doors as people are running up to the doors to get a glimpse of the president. Eventually, everyone makes it out into the grand entrance hall to form a receiving line. I’m on that receiving line on the right. A Secret Service agent is definitely standing beside me. My pastor, who may also be the headmaster now, comes up to me and tells me that I’m being assigned to the Secret Service as a liaison between the church/school and the president’s people. We start arguing about how that’s not what I want to do. He ends up giving me a special lapel pin and a communications radio, while I thought why don’t I get a gun like they do. 

Onward. 
Be kind to yourself. 

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