A Personal Touch

Recently, I was in the Peace Corps Swaziland office for a meeting with both local staff and staff from Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington. As myself and other PCVs were introducing ourselves, an HQ staffer mentioned that I looked familiar. I asked where she hung out in DC thinking that we might have run in the same circles. She said that we didn’t know each other from DC. That it was Peace Corps related. She asked if I had been to any of the regional trainings. I told her that I hadn’t. I asked if she possibly knew my twin brother, explaining that we often get mistaken for each other. She was certain that she hadn’t met him. Finally, it clicked. She said, “you have a blog, don’t you?” I proudly responded that I was the human behind whatisKirbydoing.com. We were both satisfied with that solution. 

Hours later as I was reflecting on that interaction, my exchange with the Peace Corps staffer morphed meaning. She felt that she knew me. My blog allowed her to feel like we had connected before. It was in this moment of reflection that I realized that this blog is serving its intended purpose. I wanted this blog project to allow readers to join me on my journey through Peace Corps. This interaction was confirmation of the fulfillment of that purpose. 

I am reminded of a similar interaction from many months ago. A friend from DC mentioned that she enjoyed the blog because she felt like she was here with me. I’m thankful and delighted that this blog has fostered that connection. 

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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Sweet Dreams – Waiting for POTUS

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). 

Somehow, the church that I grew up in was now a school as well. For some reason, I was back there. I think I was working in some capacity in the office. I was infamous for denying the students whatever they wanted. I was the “no” guy. 

There came a time when the pastor of the church/school announced that the President of the US would be visiting the church/school. There were no classes that day, but everyone still came to work because the president was coming. There was a grand entrance hall that had been cleared of everything, presumably by US Secret Service. There were two rooms, one on each side of the grand entrance hall. The church/school staff was in the room on the right. I was in that room. We were all waiting for the president to arrive. The doors to our room were open and we could see the grand entrance hall. 

All of a sudden, the Peace Corps Swaziland Safety and Security Manager comes in to advise us that the president is coming, and closes the doors as people are running up to the doors to get a glimpse of the president. Eventually, everyone makes it out into the grand entrance hall to form a receiving line. I’m on that receiving line on the right. A Secret Service agent is definitely standing beside me. My pastor, who may also be the headmaster now, comes up to me and tells me that I’m being assigned to the Secret Service as a liaison between the church/school and the president’s people. We start arguing about how that’s not what I want to do. He ends up giving me a special lapel pin and a communications radio, while I thought why don’t I get a gun like they do. 

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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