From the @whatisKirbydoing Instagram: March 08, 2018 at 08:04AM

It’s #InternationalWomensDay. Here’s a #throwback to @loco.ocho’s Girls Got Game coding camp. #YeboSisi #Empowerment #Equality #PeaceCorps #PCV #Swaziland #Africa #WhatPCVsDo #PCVBlogs #tbt
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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!

Rolling siSwati and toddler fluency

A few weeks ago, I was leaving school to go home. As I pass the gate and say bye to the students, I hear “c’ombole” as one of the students points to my bike. The confused look on my face lets them know that I don’t understand. “Cela boleke“, they clarify. I’m understanding a little better now.

One of the students explains c’ombole is the shortened version of cela boleke (pronounced click c-eh-la bo-lay-gay) meaning “please borrow me…/may I borrow…”. In this instance, the student was asking to borrow my bike. The student who explained the shortened siSwati went on to entertain my lamenting about how siSwati changes whenever I feel like I have a handle on it. She explained the concept of rolling siSwati by comparing it to English contractions and various stylistic preferences (that are present when speaking any language).

In English, “How are you doing?” becomes “How you?”; “cannot” becomes “can’t”; and “Where are you?” becomes “Where you at?” In siSwati, “uyakuphi” (pronounced oo-ya-goo-pee) becomes “uyaku” (pronounced oo-ya-goo) or “uya” (pronounced oo-yah). No meaning is lost, and the listener understands you want to know where s/he is going. This is not to be confused with “ukuphi…” (pronounced oo-goo-pee) meaning “Where is (a person)?” Sometimes, this gets rolled into “uku…” (pronounced oo-goo) or “uphi…” (pronounced oo-pee). Take for example the phrase, “ufuna ini ku wati” (pronounced oo-foo-nah ee-knee goo wah-tee). In everyday siSwati, this phrase becomes “ufunani kwati” (pronounced oo-foo-nah-knee gwah-tee). Both phrases are asking what you want to know.

With these realizations, I decided that I would focus on speaking and listening rather than reading and writing. One of the things that has helped me with this focus is a mobile voice recording app. When I hear a word or phrase I don’t understand, I record myself enunciating the word or phrase several times in siSwati with its English meaning. From time to time, I go back and listen to the recordings to refresh my memory. In that vain, I’d suspect that I’m around the fluency of an average toddler. Maybe a slightly below average toddler. Like toddlers, my subjects don’t always agree with my verbs. Sometimes, I mispronounce things. It’s possible that I might need something explained repeatedly. But eventually, we all understand. My conversations with toddlers and preschoolers are awesome, as everyone understands what’s being said. Sometimes, I can manage a conversation with my gogo, or grandmother.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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).

Monday in a Picture – The News

Swaziland is home to at least 3 different regular newspapers. The Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer are daily publications. I rarely see the Swazi News, but it’s here. All of these regular newspapers are written in English. I’ve been told that there was previously a siSwati language newspaper as well. All of the newspapers cost five emalangeni each. While the Swazi Observer markets itself as “Revived, Reliable and Read”, Swazi News says that it’s “A Complete Read”. The Times of Swaziland states that it’s been “The National Newspaper of Swaziland since 1897”. The Times of Swaziland is the oldest newspaper in Swaziland. The above picture shows print editions of the three periodicals from previous months. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Me. As a feminist. 

A few years ago, I was hanging out with a friend after happy hour. Somehow, we got on the topic of feminism. She identified as a feminist. I did not. I viewed feminists as anti-male, and I couldn’t see why I would advocate for the antithesis of my identity. My friend tried to explain to me that my view of feminism greatly differed from what it is. She explained that feminism was about equality. That made sense. I support equality. The problem was that I didn’t see inequalities. I still resisted the term, “feminist”. My friend was patient with me. 

The following year, I moved to Swaziland to begin my service in the Peace Corps. I was reminded throughout my first year in Swaziland that part of privilege is being able to not notice (or not pay attention to) something because it doesn’t adversely affect you. I have no doubt that parts of my experience are correlated to me being a man. During my time here, there have been several instances of gender inequality. Some have been shared or pointed out to me. Others have been blatant. There’s a point when not noticing becomes negligence. It’s possible that the point for me was explaining to various men that I cannot give you any of my women colleagues or friends. Sometimes, discussions ensue regarding me wanting to “keep all the women for myself”. I try to explain that women are not property or rewards, and that women aren’t owned. At some point during my service, something from the past finally made sense. Years ago, a different friend described feminism as “the radical idea that women are human beings.” 

During my service, I’ve had the opportunity to read some of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books. Most recently, I finished “We Should All Be Feminists”, which was an expanded version of a TED talk by the same name. I saw myself in some of the stories she told. I heard pieces of my story in her descriptive tales of folks with singular viewpoints on feminism, or the ‘single story’, as Adichie calls it. I was reminded of those micro-aggressions toward women that I’ve seen at home and abroad. I was reminded of many earlier conversations explaining that Black people in America are savages, and that not all Americans have great financial wealth. I still refer to myself as a Black American despite the negative images conjured in the minds of some people. For years, I’ve understood that Blackness eschews monoculturalism and the single story. There’s no definitive way to be Black. Letting go of some old thoughts has pushed me to the idea that feminism isn’t a single story. It is many things to many people. For me, it’s “the radical idea that women are human beings”. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Monday in a Picture – MTN on the Street

Some months back, I wrote about MTN in Swaziland. While MTN offers post-paid, or contract, cell phone plans, many people around the kingdom use MTN’s pay-as-you-go service. This system works by purchasing airtime. 

While airtime can be purchased from MTN stores and authorized retailer shops, it’s also available at most grocery stores and various other shops. One of the most readily available places to get airtime is from a street vendor. Some street vendors have a big yellow umbrella (like the one in the picture above). All vendors have a yellow MTN vest that identifies them as MTN vendors. With an MTN street vendor, you can buy a SIM card, airtime, or data bundles among other things. MTN street vendors also work with MTN’s Mobile Money service. Mobile Money is another world. It’s a wallet connected to your cell phone number. It can be used to send and receive money, pay bills, and buy airtime. It’s similar in many ways to PayPal or Venmo. The MTN street vendor is often a one stop shop for handling many matters. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Monday in a Picture – Super Bowl Slumber Party

This morning (my time), I experienced a first in Swaziland. Watching the Super Bowl. A fellow PCV (with amazing WiFi) hosted a Super Bowl pizza party. Swaziland is seven hours ahead of Washington, DC. This meant that we tuned in for a 1:30 am kickoff. The day and night were filled with food, friends, and football. 

I had the thought several moments during the game, “I’m watching the Super Bowl in Swaziland!” This thought made the sporadic buffering very bearable. And now, I’m well fed, extremely tired, and filled with adrenaline from watching an exciting game. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to watch my first NFL game in more than two seasons. The above photo is of some friends who also joined in the festivities. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward.