Monday in a Picture – Ummiso and Sabaca (NSFW)

Last week, I was fortunate to attend a school dance competition. Schools from all over the Manzini region gathered to showcase their skills. 

Ummiso (pronounced oo-me-see) is a Swazi traditional dance performed by young unmarried girls. This tradition is rooted in the grand Swazi tradition of Umhlanga (pronounced oom-shlan-ga).

Sabaca (pronounced sah-bah-click c-ah) is a Swazi traditional warrior dance performed by boys and men. In each ummiso or sabaca performance, there is singing. Occasionally, there are drums. A fellow teacher explained that Swazis communicate and tell stories through songs. The songs sung during the competition are no different. 

I’m very proud of our students, and all of the hard work that they did to prepare for the event. They represented the school and the community very well.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – She’s GLOWing

Gender inequality is a major concern around the world. Swaziland is no exception. In 2010, PCVs decided to team up with Swazi counterparts to form girl’s empowerment clubs. The initiative was called GLOW, which stands for Girls Leading Our World.  The new clubs were modeled after other GLOW clubs started by PCVs and host country counterparts in various Peace Corps countries. 

This past weekend, I was privileged to attend a gala celebrating GLOW counselors from around Swaziland. GLOW counselors are typically Swazi women who are passionate about girl’s and women’s empowerment, gender equality, and related issues. They lead groups of girls through a curriculum covering lessons on sexual reproductive health, gender based violence, and financial literacy among other things. The gala honored all of the GLOW counselors in appreciation of the work that they have done. Some women told stories of how they came to be associated with GLOW, and their passion for the initiative. It was a truly remarkable experience. 

The amazing women pictured above are the leadership of GLOW in Swaziland. They include senior counselors and GLOW directors. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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​Monday in a Picture – Beards of Peace Corps 

Prior to joining the Peace Corps, I saw many creative takes on Peace Corps service through memes and pictures on various social media pages. There’s Hey PCV Girl and Hey PCV Boy. There’s RPCV Meme and Peace Cats. The list goes on. All of these social media outlets were started by members of the Peace Corps community. They gave inspiration. 

On one January afternoon while waiting for my bus, the idea engine was firing on all cylinders. There were many social media accounts dedicated to showcasing beards. A quick search showed that there was no account to showcase beards in Peace Corps. I had to rectify this oversight. On 11 January 2017, Beards of Peace Corps was born. I started working on a logo, and soliciting for beards to feature. Naturally, many of the first beards to be featured were from Peace Corps Swaziland. Slowly, beards from other posts started coming in. To date, PCVs and RPCVs from 20 different posts have been featured on @BeardsofPeaceCorps. 

One of the most amazing things to come from this project is another PCV initiative called Peaceful Curls of Peace Corps. Shortly after starting Beards of Peace Corps, a fellow PCV in Swaziland was sharing how inspired she was. She wanted to showcase PCV’s natural hair coupled with maintenance tips. Following that conversation, Peaceful Curls of Peace Corps was created. Be sure to follow @PeacefulCurlsofPeaceCorps on Instagram to share and see natural hair care tips. 

If you are a, or know of any, bearded PCVs or RPCVs, please submit pictures and service details (where you serve(d) and when) to be featured on the Instagram page. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – But first, we dance! 

As I was coming into a backpacker lodge one evening in December, another PCV was headed out. We had briefly exchanged hellos when she told me that she was heading to a salsa dance social. She invited me to join. My interest was piqued. Where is this social? When does it happen? How much does it cost? I was in luck because the social was walking distance from the lodge and it was free. I decided that I must be in attendance. 

The social was magical. The people were warm and welcoming. Everyone danced with such grace and poise. I tried to imitate and do what little I remembered from salsa lessons in DC. There was also salsa’s sexy cousin, bachata, and the sensual sensation known as kizomba. I told other PCVs about this majestic biweekly outing, and suggested that they come out. 

The young lady who initially invited me has since organized private group lessons for PCVs who want to learn the various dances, but can’t attend weekly classes. These classes and socials have been amazing mental health breaks during my service in Swaziland. It’s as if I’m transformed to another world. I never thought that I’d be refining my salsa skills in southern Africa, but such is life. The above picture was taken during one of our private group lessons. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Another Day, Another Training 

If Peace Corps believes in anything, it’s capacity building through training. Many months of a PCV’s service will be spent attending trainings, planning trainings, and/or leading trainings. There’s Pre-Service Training (PST) and In Service Training (IST). There’s Mid Service Training (MST) and Project Design and Management training (PDM). There are also other trainings sprinkled throughout. 

My cohort (G14) just finished our MST. Over two weeks, there were seven distinct trainings for PCVs and Swazi counterparts to attend. The trainings covered topics like water and sanitation, rural libraries, and financial literacy. The above picture was taken during a training on “Teach Like a Champion” techniques. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Condoms in the kingdom

Swaziland is home to highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. Approximately 26% of 15-49 year olds in Swaziland are living with HIV. This high prevalence was a major factor in the king asking Peace Corps to return to Swaziland in 2003.

While various factors contribute to the high prevalence of HIV, access to condoms has been made easier (and cheaper) to prevent the spread of the virus. Free condoms are available at health clinics and hospitals. Through the “Get It? Got It.” campaign, free condoms are available at merchant shops, restaurants, border posts, and other places. Everyone is free to take however many condoms s/he needs. 

This campaign has presented another issue. Some people don’t trust the free condoms. Some people believe that free condoms (as opposed to condoms paid for by the end user) are not effective at preventing unplanned pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some people have expressed concern that the free condoms are actually coated with and promote the spread of STIs. These beliefs about the free condoms have bore new campaigns aimed at dispelling those beliefs. The result is a number of billboards, like the one pictured, that remind people that STIs and unplanned pregnancy don’t know nor care if the condom was purchased by the end user or not. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – School Lunch

The schools in Swaziland serve lunch every school day. The daily menu is minimally varied. Some days, the students are treated to soupy beans with rice. On other days, the afternoon delight is non-soupy beans with rice. 

School lunch costs are included in the annual school fees assessed to secondary school students. All primary school students and some secondary school students are fully funded by government. 

At lunch time, students line up outside of the kitchen with her/his dish and eating utensil. Four or five older students are responsible for serving their classmates. They set up a table with at least two basins filled with rice and at least two basins or buckets filled with beans. After being served, students sit around the school grounds while enjoying lunch. Students can supplement their lunch with snacks from the bomake market. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – ​Grow Your Own Food: The Harvest 

Last week, the farm-to-table experience took on new meaning. I was watering my garden when I noticed that some of the crops were ready to harvest. Some crops, namely the cauliflower, had been sacrificed to garden pests. However, there were eggplants and okra that were ripe and ready. I should mention that I had completely forgotten that I even planted eggplant. I’m thankful that the eggplant didn’t forget it had been planted (like my tomatoes did). 

I harvested three beautiful eggplants and some okra. Now, I was faced with a new challenge. What do I do with this produce? I had never cooked fresh okra. I had never cooked (or eaten) eggplant, in any state. Thankfully, there were friends and Google to help me make culinary sense of the harvest. 

I decided to make an eggplant and okra stir-fry. It was delicious! It was hard to believe that I was eating a meal that had been grown by my own hands. In reality, it’s difficult for me to take full credit for the meal. While I planted the crops and watered them (when I remembered), the Earth did most of the work. The garden was much kinder to me than I was to it. For that, I’m thankful. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Inspiration from Mother and others

​Everyday before I leave my house, this is what I see. It’s important to stay motivated and inspired while serving. People have sent postcards, greeting cards, and letters from all over the world during my time in Swaziland. I’m extremely grateful to all of those who have taken the time to write kind words and send them to me. 

To make my house feel more homey, I added pictures of those responsible for my being to the inspiration wall. They include my great grandfather, his daughter (my grandmother), and her daughter (my mother). It was on this day seven years ago that my mother passed away. She’s actually (partially) responsible for my serving in the Peace Corps. She pushed us to serve others with compassion. She instilled a sense of exploration. She made sure that we respected and embraced those who might be different from us.

Having these visual reminders has been great for keeping me motivated in the rural community. It makes my service feel a little less lonely. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Sports Day

The school year in Swaziland is divided into three terms. During the first term (which we’re currently in), high school students participate in sports. There is special time set aside for athletics. Some schools compete against other schools. At my school, the students compete against other grade levels. The students compete in soccer, volleyball, and netball. 

Recently, our school hosted a series of sports days. The teaching schedules were pushed aside in favor sporting event schedules. When students and fellow teachers asked if I would be playing, I told them that I was unsure. On the actual day, there was tremendous encouragement for me to play netball. The teachers’ team needed players. I informed them that I didn’t know how to play. In true Swazi fashion, several teachers responded that it wasn’t a problem and that I would learn. 

I was told that netball is very similar to basketball. That’s true, as there is a ball and a basket. Imagine ultimate frisbee played on a basketball court. You have to put the ball in the basket (no backboard included) instead of putting it in the endzone. There are distinct positions on a netball team. 

In our first match, I played the position of Wing Defender. This position plays opposite of the Wing Attacker. I was responsible for stopping the advancement of the ball. I had to learn that netball is not supposed to be a contact sport. Old habits die hard. In our second match, I played the position of Goal Scorer. This position plays opposite of the Goal Keeper. As a Goal Scorer, I was responsible for scoring the goals (i.e, putting the ball in the basket). I learned that I’m not really good at this position. We lost both games. 

Be kind to yourself.
Onward. 

P.S. – Last week, Peace Corps Stories featured one of my blog posts! Tell your friends.  

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