Monday in a Picture – Kirby. Full Stop

Guest Post Note: Most of this blog has given you my experience in Peace Corps eSwatini. This week, here’s something a little different. How did Peace Corps eSwatini, through the lens of a PCV, experience me? Meet Lakia. She is currently serving an extension year as a PCV in Peace Corps eSwatini. She enjoys reading, travel, blerd culture and being the greatest aunt ever. Find her on twitter – @pirate_jenn

Kirby P. Riley and I met 2 years and 2 months ago. Well, not really met. More like I tried to greet him on the airport shuttle, he wasn’t interested, I retreated to my own personal space and we carried on from there. But over the span of 2 years and 2 months, I’ve come to completely love and
learn so much from this genuine, kind, slightly anti-social gentleman.

I wish I could sum him up in a neatly bound collection of quirky adjectives and anecdotes, but I can’t. He’s just Kirby. Full stop. Anyone who knows him, knows that this phrase is enough. They understand that there is no box that works, no paragraph that can bind such a fluid individual. All
that I have, all that anyone who knows this weirdo has, is a bunch of interesting experiences so cherished that they simply can’t be shared with just anyone.

Like the times when we traded stories about our work as educators in our respective communities. Kirby is the most dynamic, long-winded storyteller I’ve ever met. But it works, somehow. Because he’s Kirby. Or the times at every Peace Corps training when a guest speaker is present and he has a question. Every question, everywhere, is always prefaced with “Uhhhhhh….hello….Kirby P. Riley,
what-is-kirby-doing-dot-com…..soooo, so my question is….” That’s Kirby. Full stop.

At a glance, he could seem like an aloof individual. But after a range of debates, puzzling Peace Corps moments, crying on his shoulder, and chats into the evening, I have learned he is immensely present. He is there. When you think he might not be paying attention. When you think you only have him as a random colleague in your life. He will show up and surprise you in profound ways. He will stretch your values and demand you know who you are and what you’re talking about. As a true friend does. Full stop.

Kirby P. Riley refuses to be my housemate. Something about “I’ll annoy him forever”, blah blah blah. But regardless, he’s stuck with me. Because like Kirby, while I don’t know everything, I know what matters. Which is when you find something good, something that moves you and helps you grow, you hang on to it. Like the Cowboys, and Reddit, and the Burn, and good soul food and sweet tea. Like our friendship. So sadly, he will find me in lots of places – on the phone, in his emails, his blog posts (but Reddit is where I draw the line, because that place scares me).

Anyone who knows anything about Peace Corps would assume that working in such an organization is trying work that tests your limits. You have to step into the capabilities you are made of. Those assumptions are correct and then some. What I found to be a saving grace in my service has been the connections with those around me who understand the layers of this work and can encourage me while I navigate the complexities of Peace Corps service. Those connections are ones I am deeply grateful for, ones that have changed my life forever. And one of those connections came in the form of a guy filled with heart, soul, compassion and an ear-splitting cackle.

Kirby. Full stop.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – School Farewell

Today, I moved out of my home in a rural southwestern nook in eSwatini. Later this week, I will officially finish my service to the kingdom of eSwatini. Similar to entering service, there will be meetings and paperwork

At school last week, I gave a farewell speech to the student body. Following my speech, one of our senior students spoke on behalf of the learners to thank me for all that I’ve done at the school. Some students gave written notes of gratitude. It’s amazing to know that the students are always listening, watching, and learning.

On my final day at the school, my school co-workers organized a farewell lunch for me. There were speeches as we enjoyed one of my favorite Swazi street foods, chicken dust. The staff presented a t-shirt they had made for me. On the front is a black and white photo of me eating a piece of meat. I was told that the reasoning for this was because I have introduced myself around the community on numerous occasions saying, “Nginu Sibusiso. Ngiyatsandza inyama”, which means “I am Sibusiso. I like meat”. On the back of the shirt, it has my Swazi name (Sibusiso) at the top, “eSwatini KuseKaya” meaning “eSwatini is home” in the middle, and my blog signature at the bottom.

I am thankful to have joined such an amazing core of teachers. The above picture was taken by one of our students after the farewell luncheon and features many of the teachers from our local high school.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Groceries

When it comes to grocery stores, there are a few options around eSwatini. In the southwest town of Mankayane, there are a few grocery stores. These are smaller, independent grocery stores. Around eSwatini, there are four large chain grocery stores including Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Spar, and Boxer. There’s a smaller version of Shoprite in some places called U-Save. Some cities have a Super Spar. All four large chain grocery stores will typically have a bakery, a butcher, and a hot food bar.

I tend to do most of my shopping at Shoprite for a couple of reasons. First, they have many locations, especially in the places I frequent in eSwatini. Second, it’s cheaper than some of the other grocery options, for the things I buy. Third, there are some products I love that are only available at Shoprite including the store brand oats and Frimax’s Sweet Chili potato chips. I think Pick n Pay has the best hot food bar with Spar running a close second. Spar’s bakery features fresh made doughnuts, which are absolutely delicious. If the store sells alcohol, it’s typically done in a separate, lockable, section of the grocery store or it’s a separate store all together. The above picture was taken outside of the Shoprite entrance in Ezulwini.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – The G3 Summit, or eSwatini Scratch Day

In December 2017, fellow eSwatini PCV Deacon hosted a camp to teach girls and young women how to code using Scratch, the visual programming language. This past Saturday, he hosted a Scratch Day competition. The students returned to central eSwatini to showcase their cartoons and video games in competition. The theme given for the competition was solving a problem in eSwatini.

More than thirty students represented GLOW clubs from all over the country. While the cartoons and video games weren’t being judged by panels from Women in Engineering (of eSwatini), students participated in discussions about women and girls in STEM after watching a TED talk from Dr. Knatokie Ford. In another room, students were invited to explore electric circuits in unconventional ways among other things. The students also has the opportunity to participate in a typing competition.

I am happy to report that our students placed third in cartoon design, and won the video game design competition. Their video game featured a girl catching falling good advice and avoiding falling bad advice. Catching good advice granted the player one point while catching bad advice subtracted a point from the player’s score. For their efforts, they won a tablet, backpacks, and a laptop. The above picture shows Deacon (the man behind G3 and Scratch Day), my Scratch-coding students (from our local high school), Mike (the Deputy Chief of Mission to eSwatini), and me.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Bend and Pick

I love thrift stores. There’s some magical about spending copious amounts of time looking through any and everything. My mother said that I get this trait from my grandmother, who also loved thrifting. Shortly after arriving in eSwatini, I found Thelma who owned a small thrift store in Manzini, eSwatini’s biggest city. Thelma spruced up my wardrobe with a few items. Due to rising business costs, Thelma had to close her store.

Some PCVs in the prior groups told me about a wonderful swap meet known as Bend and Pick. Every Wednesday and Thursday (excluding some Swazi public holidays), vendors from eSwatini and the rest of southern Africa converge on the Manzini bus rank with their wares. Bend and Pick is the largest regular flea market, that I know of, in eSwatini. If it can be worn, you’ll probably find it there. I’ve found several gems there including my super useful fanny pack. The prices are reasonable, even on a PCV budget. I’ve found that prices tend to be better the deeper you go into the market. Unlike most places in eSwatini, you can negotiate at Bend and Pick. Like thrift stores, Bend and Pick is not for folks who are in a rush or impatient. I’ve also found that as a man of size, Bend and Pick tends to be better for finding clothes that fit me. The picture above is from Bend and Pick a few weeks ago.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – That Time We Took a Field Trip

In January 2018, I was excited. The new school year was on the horizon. I was coming into a stride in my service. I was ready to introduce Wikipedia Offline to our students at the high school. As I was sharing this excitement with other PCVs and our Country Director, I mentioned the idea of a writing contest. I was trying to figure out how to gather prizes for the contest. In my mind, we would teach the students how to research and use Wikipedia Offline before they demonstrated mastery by writing brief research reports. Someone suggested a field trip. “Why not write a small grant to take the winning students to the (U.S.) embassy’s resource center and lunch?”, our director asked. Commence grant writing.

While the timeline was delayed, the essence of the project was able to shine through. In May, we announced the contest. All students were invited to use the Wikipedia Offline to write a one page report concerning the topic, “Strong Women”. Our students submitted reports about strong women that have inspired them and the world including Winnie Mandela, Jane Austen, and Oprah Winfrey.

Last month, we took that field trip to the U.S. Embassy in Ezulwini. The students were excited as it was their first time visiting the embassy. The head librarian prepared a presentation discussing what the resource center offers. He even spoke to the students about the importance of self-directed and self-motivated learning. Some students have expressed interest in getting membership cards and spending portions of the school breaks in the embassy’s resource center. The students being inspired has inspired me. I’ve very excited to see what the future holds for students who understand that they can do and become anything. The above picture was taken by embassy staff as I discussed some of the features of the resource center with my students.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Spotlight

For the second (or third, depending on how you count) time this year, I have been the main subject of a write-up in the Times of Swaziland. In January, there was an article about Parkrun, in which I was briefly interviewed. In February, the Times of Swaziland featured an article about the excitement I caused (among older women) as a super hairy umbutfo (pronounced oom-boot-foe), or warrior. Last Thursday (5 July 2018), the article pictured above was featured in the Times of Swaziland. In all instances, I received messages (from Peace Corps affiliated folks) alerting me to the write-ups. Unlike the other instances, I didn’t talk anyone from the newspaper so I wasn’t expecting this. The article did come after a post about my work was published on the Peace Corps eSwatini stories page on 3 July 2018.

My hope is that Wikipedia Offline (and Kiwix) get the much deserved attention, and that more schools, NGOs, and other organizations begin to use these products to unlock untapped potential.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – The Mural

Some months back, a fellow PCV began planning a commemoration event called Walk The Nation. In 2008, a PCV in eSwatini organized a 200 kilometre walk to bring attention to the high HIV incidence in the country. The commemoration event was designed to look at how far the fight has come, and how much more needs to be done. Several PCVs participated in the commemoration of Walk The Nation by having events in their respective communities. Some volunteers showed documentaries while other marched and had discussions about where we go from here. Some volunteers were given paint to complete mural projects. Luckily, my community was given paint and associated supplies.

At my local high school, I spoke with students about HIV incidence and how far eSwatini has come. When I introduced the mural possibility, several students were excited and began working on concepts and drawings. Last week, our students (and a few recent alumni) completed the mural project. My hope is that as the student body sees this image, they will remember that education can lead them to any and all places.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – The Staff Room

As you may know, I spend most days at a local high school. You can read about my adventures as a teacher here. However, I don’t teach all day, everyday. While some teachers here have dedicated spaces (think specialities like computers, wood shop, etc), many other teachers complete non-teaching duties in the room pictured above. It’s our staff room.

The staff room is also where I spend most my time when not teaching. I have a desk and a chair that I usually sit in. This is where I read, prepare lessons, and have lunch. At times, the staff room is host to all staff meetings and other trainings. The staff room is also where many student textbooks are stored when not in use. Students will visit the staff room to find teachers for extra assistance or to turn in assignments for grading. Sometimes, teachers will grade assignments (known as marking here) in the staff room. The stacks of notebooks seen above have student work from various student classes. Once the marking is done, one or two students will pick the stack to return to her/his classmates if students don’t retrieve their own notebooks.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Superlatives

Every year, in Peace Corps eSwatini, the junior cohort plans a see-you-later party for the senior, outgoing cohort. In years past, it’s been referred to as Christmas in June. This year, the theme changed to Vikings. It’s typical for superlatives to be given to the senior, outgoing cohort.

After voting and deliberation, superlatives were announced and distributed. The above picture is me with my superlative. The members of G14 (my cohort) voted me….most likely to never return to the U.S. I don’t know how this happened, but never is a strong word. The above picture is of me with my superlative. Someone even drew my red shorts and beard, while I chill on a beach lounger.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.