Monday in a Picture – Swazi Girls Believe

Last Wednesday, we celebrated International Day of the Girl Child. All around the world, girls live with varying degrees of inequality. Peace Corps volunteers try combat this inequality in various ways. One of the Peace Corps initiatives supporting girls’ empowerment is Girls Leading Our World (GLOW), which are community or school based clubs with curriculums on issues surrounding girls’ empowerment. Today, I’d like to highlight a fellow Swaziland PCV who took girls’ empowerment to new levels. 

Dawnita organized and hosted the inaugural Swazi Girls Believe conference to celebrate International Day of the Girl Child. More than 90 girls from a primary school in her community took part in the day’s activities. The activities included a reflection exercise on mind, body, and soul well-being, as well as panel discussions and other speakers. 

There was a photo booth and giveaways. The day ended with a hands-on workshop teaching the girls how to make reusable menstrual pads. 

The girls enjoyed themselves. Knowledge and wisdom was shared, and hopefully the girls feel more empowered because Swazi girls who believe are those who achieve. Congratulations Dawnita! The picture above was taken during the panel discussion. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Sweet Dreams – Surprise Me

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). 

I was living in some connected townhouses. Single story. There were several different blocks of townhouses on the compound. I’m not sure what everyone did, but we all worked for the same company. So I guess it was company housing. 

Some friends who didn’t work for the company came over to my house to celebrate. I think it was my birthday. We had a fairly large party at my house on the compound, but my house wasn’t big enough to sleep everyone who came. Apparently, this was an all weekend affair. Some of my colleagues in company housing were generous to offer their houses for my friends. 

The next day, I’m awake and walking around the housing compound in search of my friends. I find a few of the guys. We chill and talk. Later that morning, some of the girls find us. We continued chilling and talking. One of the girls says that she has a surprise for me. We get in her car and she drives around the city for a while. Eventually, we’re in a seemingly deserted part of the city. I vaguely recognize the place. We’re approaching either a US embassy or U.N. compound. There are several white cars parked around the grounds. My friend tells me that I’m going to like my surprise. I asked if it’s going to be better than my party. She said that it would be. 

Finally, we drive into a building. Think revolving door for cars where you check your car like you would check a coat. We get out of the car in the lobby. We get onto a very large, spacious freight elevator. I can tell that we are going down. We keep descending. How many underground floors does this building have? My friend tells me to close my eyes. I do, reluctantly. I don’t remember leaving the freight elevator. But, the elevator stopped moving and all of the scenery of the elevator changed. There was now a massive tv and I was sitting on some kind of couch. I asked my friend what was going on. She said that it was a surprise and that I’d just have to wait a few more moments. She turned on the tv and started playing a movie. I could tell by the music that it was in the Police Academy series. It was Police Academy 8. I was super happy and excited to watch it. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – Mother Bear

There are numerous organizations that offer aid to people around Swaziland. Some of these organizations are based here in the kingdom. Some organizations offer financial support while others inkind support and supplies. 

One such organization is The Mother Bear Project. Based in Minnesota, the organization sends hand knit (or crocheted) bears to young children in developing nations affected by HIV. Volunteer knitters are asked to either hand knit or crochet a bear from a given pattern. The knitted bears are a labor of love project seeks to comfort affected children. 

Last week, I completed a distribution of Mother Bears at one of the primary schools in my community. The students were very excited with big smiles as they received the bears. The above picture is a selfie of me with some of the children after receiving the bears. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – VRF

Each Peace Corps post hosts one or more sectors. Each sector operates within a unique program framework, which outlines the work to be done by PCVs in that country. Twice a year, we (PCVs) have to submit a standardized report on the work that we have done, and are doing. That standardized report is known as the Volunteer Reporting Form (or the VRF). It’s the report that literally seeks to answer the query, what is Kirby doing?

There are general descriptors of activities or projects that the PCV has done (or is doing) along with specified indicators linking projects to targets within the framework. For example, co-facilitating a training on permagardens would be linked to health and nutrition indicators. This would target goals in the framework that deal with food security and access. The VRF also asks PCVs to report on cultural exchange activities of note. After the VRF is submitted to local supervisors, it eventually ends up in Peace Corps headquarters. From there, aggregate data can be generated about how Peace Corps is doing (locally and globally) on each specific target. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Sweet Dreams – Water Theme Park

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). 

​I was with one or two friends when we decided to visit a theme park. We were very excited to spend the day riding the rides and enjoying the water. This was mostly a water park. One of water slides was made completely of wooden boards. I’m not sure how anyone was able to slide down, but we did. 

The biggest attraction at the theme park was their really big pool. I thought it was the ocean. There were small boats and people sharing the space. My friends and I decided we would get a boat for activities. There was water skiing, tubing and other things. At some point, I think our boat is a little low in the water. I think we’re sinking. My friend who’s driving the boat says that there is nothing to worry about, so I stop worrying and continue with activities. While water skiing, I managed to fall down. At first, I was still holding on to the handle. Eventually, my grip loosened and I let go. In the midst of this, my swimming shorts came off and were nowhere to be found. I swam back to the boat, which was clearly sinking now. We managed to get back to the shore. I didn’t have any other clothes to put on, so I had to walk around naked. I decided that I should ride the wooden water slide one last time. I did. It was only slightly more painful without swimming shorts. 

As we were leaving, there were three theme park workers at the exit. They were selling college funds for babies, insurance for babies, and funeral services for babies. When I declined the college funds and insurance, one of the workers said that I really needed to look into the funeral services for babies. I told her that my wife would be mad at her for suggesting that our baby should die. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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This Ain’t Easy: Difficulties in Service

Peace Corps service is difficult. I often get asked if/what I miss about America. My answer is always food, and the variety of it. In fact, I have a list of places to eat when I return to DC. This question is often followed up by some variation of “isn’t it difficult being away from your family for so long?” Technology seems to shorten the distance. However, if I had to single out one thing, I’ve found the most difficult part of my service, this far, has been being “always on”. 

I’ve had jobs where I participated in on-call rotations. This is different. There’s a certain brain drain even when apparently doing nothing. One of the core expectations of Peace Corps is:

“Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance.”

That professional performance item doesn’t end when the work day does. In fact, the “work day” is never over. Off days are non-existent. Off days are work days. While it’s true that I’m not teaching 24 hours daily, there’s still work to be done. There’s still siSwati to be learned, improved, and perfected. There’s still Swazi English to be deciphered. Relationship building and maintenance is work. Active listening and mindful presence is work. Waking up and walking from my house to the latrine means that I have to be ready to interact. My actions (or lack thereof) are highly visible. All day, everyday, I am the face of America. I am the face of all Americans. I am the face of Black Americans. I am the face of American men. If I eat ice cream with a fork, Americans do that. If I’m loud, boisterous, and use lots of profanity, Americans do that. 

Months ago, I was speaking with a musician in Swaziland. Somehow, the conversation turned to drug use among musicians. The musician said something that would stick with me. When discussing musicians and heavy drug use, the musician stated that drugs were prevalent because it’s not natural for a person to be in a near constant state of performance entertainer mode. Day after day. Night after night. Show after show. The musician explained that they are expected to continually perform at the highest levels. Otherwise, they are replaced by someone who can perform at those high levels. In no way am I suggesting that PCVs do or should indulge in drug use. I am offering that anyone considering Peace Corps service might want to develop healthy (read: non destructive) coping mechanisms and vices.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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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