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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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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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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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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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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Monday in a Picture – The Origin of Coffee

I stopped drinking coffee regularly years ago. As I got older, my digestive system grew less tolerant. I decided to limit my intake to special occasions. Being in Ethiopia qualifies as a special occasion. 

There are two things many Ethiopians were happy to tell me. First, Ethiopia is the only country on the African continent to never be colonized. Second, coffee’s origins and the best coffee is found in Ethiopia. 

There are big coffee shops that reminded me of Starbucks, aesthetically. There are small coffee shops that were described to me as micro enterprises. In both coffee shop experiences, the raw coffee beans are roasted and grinded on site. There is incense burning. The coffee is typically made over a wood burning fire in a black clay pot. There have also been instances where I’ve been offered coffee when visiting someone’s residence. 

I am happy to report that my digestive system handled the delicious coffee very well. I haven’t tasted coffee from the various coffee regions around the world, so I can’t say if Ethiopian coffee is the best in the world. I can definitively say that I have enjoyed every cup during my time in Ethiopia. 

The above picture is of a small enterprise entrepreneur named Desta pouring a cup of coffee at her street side coffee shop. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S. – Last week, I learned that Hawaii is the only US state that grows. 

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Monday in a Picture – Sibebe

Guest post note: As I don’t drink alcohol, I am not able to authentically speak about the beer culture here in Swaziland. In the interest of sharing as much Swazi culture as possible, fellow Peace Corps Swaziland volunteer and G14 brother Nick McDerrah wrote this guest post. Be sure to check out he and his wife’s blog here

Sibebe is the pride of the nation, and the only respectable beer to drink on a Swazi bus or khombi. Named after a large chunk of rock near Mbabane, Sibebe is the only widely available Swazi produced beer. People may drink Castle or Hansa (two South African beers) but if you want to show pride in the beautiful country of Swaziland, grab a Sibebe. The beer is available in a variety of formats, but the proper way to enjoy this lager is through a large 660ml bottle. One of these bottles will set you back about e15, which makes it a bargain to drink local and support a Swazi enterprise. The larger bottles are also recycled and reused. It’s the beer that keeps on giving!

After interviewing others about the exact taste of Sibebe, I received responses like “it’s better than nothing,” or “tastes like piss water.” Opinions differ and obviously one beer can’t make everyone happy, but with limited beer options in country, you take what you can get. With that being said, I do believe that Sibebe is a refreshing, smooth, light beer that tastes great on a hot Swazi day. Add in a fresh squeezed lemon and you have just entered flavortown!

The taste is similar to PBR or Coors, but I believe it improves on these American classics. It also has an alcohol level of 4.8%, which is similar to other beers in this category. The bottle is a piece of art, with a gold wrapping around the rim and a nice drawing of Sibebe Rock on the label.

The ideal pairing for a Sibebe is a lunch of ‘chicken dust’ or any other braiied meats and pap. Bring some to share for your next braii and you will be the man/woman of the hour!

Sibebe is a uniquely Swazi beer that embodies the relaxed, fun loving nature of the people that drink it. It may not differ from many other cheap beers around the world, but you will be glad you tried this Swazi masterpiece.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S.- Sibebe is pronounced sih-bay-bay. 

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