Monday in a Picture – The Night Sky

I have come to appreciate many things about Swaziland. The flora and fauna are quite awesome. Living in a rural part of Swaziland, I get to see beautiful birds and fantastic flowers. I also get to see stars in a way that I’ve never seen them in the US. It’s no secret that I’ve spent most of my life in cities. In a world filled with city lights, the light pollution isn’t as evident. It’s normal.

Rural Swaziland introduced a new normal. I don’t know the names of various stars. I’ve never studied constellations or astronomy. My community doesn’t have street lights. Instead, the community is lit by lights on homesteads that have electricity. The rest of the light is provided by the moon and stars. The views are definitely one of the perks of being here. The above picture is of the night sky as seen above the electricity pole across from my house.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – Friday Night Live

When going out in Swaziland, there are some routine options. Some choose to party at Solani’s in Mbabane while others choose the Pub and Grill in Ezulwini. Some choose to eschew city venues, and opt for rural and semi-rural bars (called shabeens). Then, there’s Friday Night Live.

Friday Night Live is a sporadic monthly/bimonthly competition series at House on Fire in Malkerns. This is same venue that hosts the annual Bushfire Festival. The event typically features three up and coming, local musical acts. The musical acts, who each perform one set, have the chance to perform at the Bushfire Festival. When live musical acts aren’t performing, one of the house DJs plays. One of my favorite DJs in Swaziland, DJ Mkay, was spinning this past Friday. The picture above is of M. Triggerson performing last Friday.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Black Girls Global Exchange

Last week, the dreams and desires of a fellow PCV were actualized. In Swazi Spring 2017 (August-September), Dawnita saw a documentary about a girls step team from Baltimore, Maryland. She was moved by documentary, and shared that she wanted to do a documentary screening for the girls in her community.

She had conversations with folks from Baltimore, her hometown. They assembled a team and began working on bringing an idea to fruition. What if Black girls from this step team in Baltimore could connect with Black girls from South Africa and Swaziland? What if the image of their international contemporaries was formed by more than the media? Black Girls Global Exchange (BGGE) was born. More than fifteen high school girls and chaperones from Baltimore journeyed to South Africa and met up with high school girls from Manzini (Swaziland) and Soweto (South Africa). Together, they explored Soweto (and shared dance moves). The girls enjoyed a week of intercultural exchange as they tried new cuisine, shared stories, and completed service projects side by side. I was fortunate to be one of many photographers capturing the events.

On Thursday, girls from all over Swaziland joined the BGGE participants in central Swaziland for a screening of the documentary and a symposium. It was beautiful and emotional. It was surreal at times watching the girls truly and fully embrace the sentiment that we are much more alike than we are different. As the BGGE participants marched into the conference room for symposium, they were indistinguishable. Girls from Manzini and Baltimore wore matching outfits as they led chants of “B-G-G-E”. The energy was electrifying.

During the symposium, a light lunch was served. Two BGGE mentors from Baltimore, who are professional chefs, joined Swazi chefs in the kitchen to prepare a delightful experience highlighting American and Swazi foods. Shrimp and grits (an American favorite) was served alongside chicken feet, pap, and Swazi cornbread (all Swazi favorites).

While the symposium featured many powerful moments, I’d like to highlight two. During the panel discussion (pictured above), BGGE participants from Baltimore and Manzini discussed what they had learned from nearly a week of intentional cultural exchange. The girls shared how they connected on the challenges they face in their respective homes. Gender based violence and inequality is problem in Swaziland and America. HIV plagues both nations with so many infected and affected. At another point in the symposium, the participants from Manzini closed a presentation with a beautiful song. The lyrics hit me as tears fell. “Shine your light–Be the light–We, Black girls; we gotta stick together”. As the lyrics repeated, the stage began to fill with the BGGE participants from Baltimore and other girls. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen during my time in Swaziland. The Black Girls Global Exchange is the epitome of Black girl magic.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – Below are more pictures highlighting the Black Girls Global Exchange.

Correction (8 April 2018): There were 4 middle school girls from Baltimore, Maryland, in addition to the high school participants.

The lyrics from the moving song (during the symposium) were: “Show the light…give them life…we black girls…let’s work together.” It was written and arranged by BGGE Swazi Ambassador Nosfiso Magagula, 17 years old.

Monday in a Picture – Wikipedia

In late 2017, I was at home browsing Reddit as I had done many evenings prior. I’m not sure what I had searched or what sequence of clicking had landed me on this page. At first glance, I thought it was one of the internet’s jokes. One thread read “…Wikipedia offline…”. My interest piqued, I decided to take a look.

The Wikimedia Foundation decided years ago that they would make the entire Wikipedia database available to the public. In other words, someone could now download the entirety of Wikipedia’s content and have access to it without internet connectivity. Various programmers and organizations developed offline browsers that could be used with the database files. One such organization is Kiwix. The Kiwix platform uses .zim files and features many products from the Wikimedia Foundation including WikiVoyage, Wikitionary, and Wikiversity.

With knowledge of this possibility, I immediately thought about conversations at the school during the past year. Our students were trying to keep up in the information age without reliable access to information. We had a computer lab, but no internet connectivity. I spoke to my head teacher and counterpart about the possibility of equipping the computer lab with offline Wikipedia. They agreed, but wanted to see something in action. I decided that I would put together a proof of concept presentation. I downloaded Kiwix for Windows and the Simple English .zim file. When I showed my colleagues how the program worked, they began to share my excitement. My head teacher requested that we move forward with the larger Wikipedia files. I spent half of November and all of December downloading Wikipedia for Schools, Wikipedia (in English) without pictures or videos, and other wikis.

Now, the 2018 academic year is under way. The computers in our lab are now equipped with the offline Wikipedia resources, and I am teaching students and colleagues how to use the software. Many of my colleagues and students are very excited. The software is being used by teachers to brush up on some subjects. Students are using the software to better understand the topics covered in class and to prepare for their external exams in term three. Throughout this term, students have stayed after school to study and print Wikipedia articles to use at home.

Last week, I was invited to another volunteer’s school to present on the Wikipedia resources to their students and staff. Apparently, their students really enjoyed the presentation. On the day following the presentation, they convinced their teacher to take them to the computer lab. Once there, they debated advantages and disadvantages of social media use. One of the teachers at their school also took her students to the computer lab to better understand iodine and its properties.

I’m beyond excited to see this project taking shape. In my vision for Swaziland, all schools would be using Wikipedia offline if they don’t have internet access. I’m also excited about chipping away at the digital divide. The picture above (taken by one of my students) is of me teaching my Form 4 students about the various wikis.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Tibi Tendlu

In 2016, a documentary premiered in Swaziland. It featured Swazis talking about Tibi Tendlu (pronounced tee-bee ten-jlu), or family dirt, including child abuse and gender based violence. A fellow Swaziland PCV recently kicked off an initiative to host screenings of the documentary for school aged girls and young women around Swaziland. My community was fortunate to participate in the screening series.

Last week, our high school hosted a screening of Tibi Tendlu. A facilitator involved in the screening’s post-production process joined us and led our GLOW club participants in discussions about gender based violence and family dirt. The girls were also provided with contact information for organizations that can help address gender based violence in Swaziland. The above photo is of the girls watching the documentary last week.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Chicken Dust

One of the greatest ways to experience a place is through its food. Swaziland’s street food culture features a few staples. One of the meals that can be found all around Swaziland is chicken dust.

Chicken dust is a grilled chicken quarter typically served with a maize porridge known as lipaleshi (pronounced lee-pah-lee-she), or pap, and salad. Some chicken dust stands give the option of fries or rice. You may be wondering why it’s called chicken dust. The short answer is: I don’t know. I suppose that it may be because of the placement of chicken dust stands on the side of the road where dust can be kicked up by passing cars. But again, I don’t know. Chicken dust is a good, quick lunch or dinner that will cost 20-25 emalangeni.

While I haven’t experience all chicken dust places in Swaziland, I’m confident that the best chicken dust can be found in Mankayane across from the bus rank. They give the option of pap or rice to accompany their flavorful, juicy chicken. Be sure to treat yourself to this Swazi delicacy if you’re ever in the neighborhood. The above picture features the delicious chicken dust from Mankayane.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – A Bug’s Life

Swaziland has opened my eyes to many new things. I have a newfound love of ice water and mangoes. Learning siSwati has introduced a culture of depth and tradition. I have also taken a special interest in the small critters I see in the rural community.

Apparently, this is a thing for PCVs in many countries. A PCV in Mozambique organizes and curates an Instagram account (@woahinsecto) featuring insects from all over the world. Growing up in an urban environment, I found insects to be a nuisance. When I did journey to more rural places on family vacations, the insects were huge and had stingers that left itchy bumps. The only insect that had redeeming qualities was the firefly because it lit up the summer sky.

I’ve seen creatures here that are truly stunning. Some of the tiny critters are extremely hairy. Other critters are incredibly colourful. A couple of weeks ago, I was at school heading to class when I saw the critter pictured above. I thought it might jump when I got close, but it didn’t. It did start walking away. Luckily, I was able to get close enough to snap this picture.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – According to @woahinsecto, the creature above is the Pygromorphidae and their colors are a warning to predators that they are chemically protected!

Monday in a Picture – Sihambile eWakanda

Warning: This post does have some spoilers regarding Black Panther.

I’m writing this on Wednesday 21 February. Today, students from 14 different communities across Swaziland came together to journey to Wakanda. Some students and chaperones traveled for hours to Swaziland’s only movie theatre. As I journey back to school with my students, I’m tired and happy. My heart is full.

For many students, this was their first trip to the cinema. They were excited. I was excited. Everyone was excited. The students were able to meet and fellowship with other students from around the kingdom. And as an added bonus, they got treated to the cinematic experience that is Black Panther. After the movie, several students gave a Wakandan salute and two thumbs up. I was able to speak with some of my students after the film about their thoughts and reactions. One student said that he enjoyed the film overall, but that he was really appreciative of how the ancestors were intertwined into the story. To see T‘Challa consulting his late father in the ancestral plane was powerful. Another student was enthralled with the relationship between Africans and Black Americans as he sought to understand why Killmonger wanted to destroy Wakanda.

I must say that I have a newfound appreciation for the teachers and other responsible adults who chaperone field trips regularly. If you haven’t experienced this film yet, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a cinematic delight.

The above picture was taken just before the students went into the theatre to see Black Panther. On a related note, I never knew how difficult it was to get 70+ school children to stay still long enough to take a picture.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – Sihambile eWakanda means “We went to Wakanda”.

P.P.S – Here’s a picture of me, my counterpart, and our top students (per last year’s results).