“Oh…you went to the real [insert place name here]”

Last week, I made my way to southern Cambodia. Kampot, to be specific. I had been told about the pepper farms and caves nearby. I also has heard about the crab market in the nearby town of Kep and the surrounding parks. I wanted to get out and see all of the things, so I rented a motorbike for the day.

After an exciting day eating and riding through the Kampot and Kep provinces, I made my way back to the guesthouse. During happy hour, various people were talking about their day’s events. The conversation turned to me. I talked about seeing the sites and eating delicious food. Someone remarked, “oh, you saw the real Cambodia today”. I’ve heard similar remarks several times before. While living in rural in rural eSwatini, some said that I was living in the real eSwatini. Wandering around Salvador Bahia and beyond inspired comments about seeing the real Brazil. But during the happy hour conversation, something clicked.

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is just as Cambodian as rural communities in the Kampot and Kep provinces. Even with its high rise buildings and KFC, it’s real Cambodia. Rio de Janeiro is as much Brazil as other Brazilian cities, towns, and villages without a picturesque Copacabana Beach. Furthermore, Copacabana Beach is as much of real Brazil as the favelas around the city. Manzini, the most populous city in eSwatini, is just as authentically Swazi with its busyness and amenities as Lushikishini (the rural community where I served).

It’s rural Cambodia. But it’s giving me memories of rural eSwatini.

I’ve never heard anyone describe the U.S. with similar language and sentiment. If someone visits Manhattan in New York and doesn’t leave Midtown, they have visited the real America. If someone visits Manhattan in Kansas and doesn’t leave the Kansas State University campus, they have also visited the real America. America, and by extension – Americans, is allowed to be more than one thing. At the same time. America can be simultaneously rich and poor, urban and rural, animal loving carnivores and animal loving vegetarians. All of this is the real America. This has been normalized. But Cambodia can’t be the urban sprawl of Phnom Penh and the rural fishing village of Chamcar Bei? Why can’t both Manzini and Lushikishini be viewed as real eSwatini?

I believe that the fuel behind this idea is the same one that fuels ideas of white supremacist racism and sexist chauvinism. It’s the idea that says if you’re non white, you can only be one thing. The same idea suggests that if you’re non (cis) male, again you can only be one thing. You want to be a Black man pursuing a PhD, and freestyle rap over beats you produce? Nah. Pick one. You want to be a woman who’s career focused and sexual liberated, or a woman who’s strong and nurturing? No can do. In a similar vein, you want to be a developing country with fanciful urban areas and abundant agricultural lands? Nope. It’s a single story, and as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us-it’s dangerous.

The motorbike was full of petrol, and this guy was ready to explore.

The truth is, we are much more alike than we like to admit. Sure, our cities, suburbs, and rural communities may look different. We may cook things in different ways, but we tend to cook similar things. We may speak different languages, but we’re all simply seeking to communicate and be heard. Regardless of what stage of development a country is in, that country is allowed to be multiple things. At the same time. Just like its residents.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – Pasar Malam

Some weeks ago, I started looking for my next destination. After lots of internal dialogue and price checking, I settled on Cambodia. Phnom Penh, to be exact. One of the things that I’ve grown fond of is extended layovers. Especially in places where visas are free. On the way to Cambodia, I was so fortunate.

Flying from Chennai, I had to connect in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). When I booked the flight, I started looking for things to do in the city to take advantage of my fifteen hour layover. I found that Malaysia was known for having really good food. I also learned that Kuala Lumpur has a plethora of pasar malams, or night markets, filled with the aforementioned really good food. I had to go.

This blog post helped me figure things out. After landing, I went to the city centre to check out the Petronas Twin Towers and walk around. By early evening, I was ready to let my tastebuds explore. I made my way over to the Taman Connaught night market. It’s massive. Like seriously massive. Like “go with friends and pace yourself with a bite of this and a taste of that because you’ll be overwhelmed with deliciousness” massive. There was a lot of pork, with a smattering of poultry. There were all different kinds of fruit (available whole, in pieces, juiced, and sometimes smoothied). With some dishes, noodles or rice played a prominent role. In many dishes, eggs featured generously. While most stalls had menu boards or signs in English, some did not. It’s an excellent opportunity to see if your eyes can figure out what your tastebuds desire. There were also stalls selling clothing, cell phone accessories, and other things.

After two hours of walking through the stalls, I decided to call it quits. I had been gluttonous enough. I had eaten to my heart’s content. I was ready for a corner and a nap. If you ever have the opportunity to visit (and eat) at any of the night markets in Kuala Lumpur, do it! But pace yourself. For the market is mighty, and the stomach is small. The picture above is of one of the stalls serving salted egg things.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – here’s a picture of me about to dig into something called salted egg chicken. It was pretty delicious.

Time Has Been Going For a Very Long…Time (alternative name: Kirby visits Hampi)

Months ago after I had decided to begin my close of service (COS) trip in India, several people echoed similar advice. “Don’t drink the water; take it easy on the food; prepare for high stimulation of all senses”. While I have kept those tidbits in mind, another suggestion continued to be mentioned by different people rather sporadically. “Be sure to visit Hampi.” Even after arriving in India, an array of people have suggested that I go to Hampi. Others were excited when I mentioned that I was planning to go. One traveler I met remarked that I had to go to Hampi because it was “like something out of the Flintstones”. I only vaguely understood the reference.

Last week, I made it to Hampi. As others warned me, it’s a stark contrast to the India that many tourists/travelers/backpackers see. It’s not the booming metropolis that it was centuries ago, but it’s known for being an ancient kingdom with numerous temples. It’s also much more quiet than the larger cities around India.

As I went out for a bike ride and hike one morning, I couldn’t help but to think of Petra, the ancient kingdom in Jordan. The ancient architecture. The massiveness. The history. The large rock formations gave me thoughts of the Grand Canyon. I’m not a history buff. Not even close. However, I can appreciate things of historical significance. It also amazes me how the story of these places passes down throughout generations.

If you ever find yourself in close or even close-ish proximity to Hampi, check it out. It’s also less expensive than visiting Petra. Of course, if you find yourself in close or close-ish proximity to Wadi Musa, check out Petra. The feel is different in the cities, as well. This may be because Petra is a massive, self-contained historical site whereas Hampi is a city with a vast array of historical sites spread throughout it. I should note that Hampi is still of importance to Hindus, as Virupaksha Temple still functions as a temple.

In case you missed the photos on the @whatisKirbydoing instagram (due to technical difficulties), they are here!

By contrast, here are some photos from my visit to Petra in 2014.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Where Did My Money Go?

Budgets are important. Time, money and other resources are finite so the absence of an accountability method can lead to a very quick draining of those resources. In the age of technology, mobile apps have made it easier. For my COS trip, I was looking for an app that could handle budgeting and expense tracking using multiple currencies.

After some internet searches, I came across Toshl. It can track income and expenses while handling budgeting tasks. The app allows you to set a home currency, while entering expenses (or income) in other currencies. It will automatically show conversions to the home currency at the last updated rate. For example, I can set my home currency to the US dollar and enter Kenyan expenses in Kenyan shillings after entering Swazi expenses in Swazi emalangeni. In my expense tracker, the expenses will show in their respective currencies with the day’s exchange rate for US dollars. The app has premium, paid features that I have not explored. One such feature is the ability to connect bank accounts for automatic syncing.

Overall, the app has been just what I needed. It has allowed me to keep track of my spending during trip. It even reminds me, via mobile notifications, to ensure that I input all of my expenses. Recently, I even got a notification that I’m on track to be slightly under budget (for my trip). I would recommend it if you’re planning on traveling abroad or dealing in currencies outside your home currency.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Auto Rickshaw

So far in India, I’ve been to two places: Mumbai and Goa. While Mumbai is in the state of Maharashtra, Goa is a state on its own comprised of several small cities and villages. While moving around Goa can be done by bicycle, motor bike, or taxi among other modes, moving around Mumbai presents several options. In addition to trains, buses, and taxis, there’s the auto rickshaw.

I should note that auto rickshaws are present in Goa as well, at least in Mapusa and Panaji. They just aren’t as popular as they are in Mumbai. When I needed to find one in Mumbai, I could (after going to different ones to find one to take me). The auto rickshaws in Mumbai are metered, starting at a base fare of 18 rupees and increase accordingly for distance and time spent waiting in traffic (which there is an abundance of). I was told that there is a night surcharge, which starts at a base fare of 24 rupees. I’m not sure what time the night surcharge starts. I travelled a few nights after 11 PM, and was not charged a night rate. For a ride of five kilometers, I paid around 75 rupees (just over $1 USD). In the south Mumbai region, auto rickshaws are not allowed so options are limited to trains, buses, taxis and walking.

To contrast Mumbai’s auto rickshaws, the same transport in Mapusa and the rest of Goa do not use meters. Prices are “negotiated” before riding. For a ride of ten kilometers, I paid around 220 rupees (which was negotiated down from 300 rupees). The picture above was taken from a bus window while sitting in Mumbai traffic.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

InstaPeace Projects

There is no shortage of instagram imagery to keep us busy. Some R/PCVs and friends joined in on the fun. The following is a list of Instagram accounts featuring various aspects of Peace Corps life. None of these accounts are representative of or affiliated with the United States government, any host country government, or the United States Peace Corps. Be sure to follow, like, and interact with these folks. And if you’re inspired to undertake your own project (or if I’ve missed any), be sure to comment so that I can add the account. Accounts are listed in alphabetical order.

– Beards of Peace Corps (@beardsofpeacecorps) – R/PCVs show off their beards and mustaches

– Black PCV (@blackpcv) – folks from across the diaspora currently serving (and who have served)

– Hey PCV Boy (@hey_pcv_boy) – jokes and memes because you deserve a laugh

– Hey PCV Boy (@heypcvboy) – not sure if this account is related to the above account, but more jokes and memes because you deserve a laugh

– Hey PCV Girl (@heypcvgirl) – jokes and memes because you deserve a laugh

– How a PCV puts it gently (@howapcvputsitgently) – gifs that R/PCVs can relate to

– Jaded Corps (@jadedcorps) – taking PCV pictures and making amazing memes, also because you deserve a laugh

– Melanin of Peace Corps (@melanin_of_peace_corps) – a showcase of melanated R/PCVs and their work

– My Peace Corps Story (@mypeacecorpsstory) – an RPCV decided to do a podcast. This is the accompanying instagram.

– Overheard PCV (@overheardpcv) – bits and pieces of conversations overheard by PCVs

– Peace Corps Eats (@pcv_eats) – the food PCVs eat

– Peace Corps Eats (@pcveats) – not sure if this is affiliated with the above account, but more of the food PCVs eat

– Peace Corps Transportation (@pcvtransportation) – taking a look at how PCVs get around

– Peace Cats (@peace_cats1) – the cats of Peace Corps

– Peace Corps Cats (@peacecorpscats) – not sure if this is affiliated with the above account, but more cats of Peace Corps

– Peace Corps Food (@peacecorpsfood) – a foodie journey through Peace Corps

– Peace Corps Life (@peacecorpslife) – a look at life in Peace Corps

– Peace Corps Noire (@peacecorpsnoire) – Black/African American PCVs living their best lives

– Peace Corps Potential (@peacecorpspotential) – pictures that could possibly be from someone’s service

– Peace Corps Problems (@peacecorpsproblems) – commiserate together with you fellow R/PCV family

– Peace Corps Style (@peacecorpsstyle) – the PCV fashion

– Peace Corps Travels (@peacecorpstravels) – images from the vast travels of R/PCVs

– Peace Corps True Life (@peacecorpstruelife) – capturing the struggle essence of PCV life

– Peace Corps Whole 30 (@peacecorpswhole30) – a PCV does the whole 30 diet

– Peace Doors (@peacedoors) – based in Guatemala, a PCV set out to photograph doors

– Peaceful Curls of Peace Corps (@peacefulcurlsofpeacecorps) – PCVs share hair care tips and tricks

– Peas Corps (@peascorps) – healthy food and ideas for PCVs

– Woah Insecto (@woahinsecto) – highlighting some of the cool bugs and critters PCVs see during service

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

​Monday in a Picture – Beards of Peace Corps 

Prior to joining the Peace Corps, I saw many creative takes on Peace Corps service through memes and pictures on various social media pages. There’s Hey PCV Girl and Hey PCV Boy. There’s RPCV Meme and Peace Cats. The list goes on. All of these social media outlets were started by members of the Peace Corps community. They gave inspiration. 

On one January afternoon while waiting for my bus, the idea engine was firing on all cylinders. There were many social media accounts dedicated to showcasing beards. A quick search showed that there was no account to showcase beards in Peace Corps. I had to rectify this oversight. On 11 January 2017, Beards of Peace Corps was born. I started working on a logo, and soliciting for beards to feature. Naturally, many of the first beards to be featured were from Peace Corps Swaziland. Slowly, beards from other posts started coming in. To date, PCVs and RPCVs from 20 different posts have been featured on @BeardsofPeaceCorps. 

One of the most amazing things to come from this project is another PCV initiative called Peaceful Curls of Peace Corps. Shortly after starting Beards of Peace Corps, a fellow PCV in Swaziland was sharing how inspired she was. She wanted to showcase PCV’s natural hair coupled with maintenance tips. Following that conversation, Peaceful Curls of Peace Corps was created. Be sure to follow @PeacefulCurlsofPeaceCorps on Instagram to share and see natural hair care tips. 

If you are a, or know of any, bearded PCVs or RPCVs, please submit pictures and service details (where you serve(d) and when) to be featured on the Instagram page. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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