​Monday In A Picture – For Colored Girls Who Reply “Pilot” When Asked, “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?” 

Yesterday, it happened again. For the second time in my life, I met a Black woman pilot. I had left the plane and was walking up the jet bridge when I saw her. I noticed the bars on her shoulders, so I walked up to the young lady and asked if she was a first officer. She confirmed that she was. 

Nandi is a South African woman who currently flies as a first officer with Mango Airlines, based in South Africa. She stopped to chat with me for brief moment. I told her how excited I was to meet her, and the hope and promise that she gives me for the future. This is especially true now in my role as a teacher at my community’s high school. 

As a American man serving in the kingdom of Swaziland, I am increasingly aware of the privileges that I have through no merit of my own. One of the privileges benefiting me, as a man, is the fact that I get to see men in all kinds of positions throughout society. As a result, it’s rarely a question of whether I can attain a certain achievement. I have countless examples surrounding me as a man. As a Black man, I have fewer, but still numerous, examples around me. 

All of this brings me back to Nandi and my role as a teacher. I see teachers (myself included) as not only being responsible for teaching, but for inspiring their students. I want all of my students to truly believe that they can do anything. I believe that seeing examples who are relatable to our identities is important.

A Black woman gave birth to me. Black women, from various sectors in society, have been instrumental in my life. I noticed some years ago that Black women weren’t just underrepresented in the cockpit. They were non-existent. In more than 20 years of flying, I had never encountered a Black woman pilot in real life. So, I made it a travel goal of mine to meet one Black woman pilot. This task grew more daunting as I spoke with my uncle who retired from Delta Airlines after more than twenty-five years of service. He informed me that he had only met one Black woman pilot in years of extensive work and leisure travel around the world. 

In September 2014, I met Gabrielle in San Francisco. Gabrielle is a first officer with United Airlines. Yesterday, I met Nandi in Johannesburg. During this month celebrating women’s history, I want to make sure that Black and brown girls around Swaziland, Africa, and the world know that there are amazing women like Gabrielle and Nandi shattering glass ceilings and blazing trails for you. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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​Monday in a Picture – Bomake Market 

All around Swaziland this week, schools are closing for the year. The academic year here is divided into three terms. The school day is typically divided into different lessons with two breaks. The first break is mid-morning, and lasts approximately 30 minutes. The second break is a lunch break, and lasts approximately 50 minutes. 

During these breaks, 2-4 bomake (pronounced bow-mah-gay), or women set up a snack market on the school grounds. The schools don’t have vending machines. In fact, I haven’t seen any vending machines in the kingdom, that I can remember. The bomake sell all kinds of goodies. These goodies include naks (a maize based snack similar to Cheetos that comes in different flavors), lollipops, popcorn, rolls (called buns here), and fatcakes. On really hot days, there are even ice blocks (a flavored, sweetened frozen slushy solid). 

I’ve noticed that the prices for snacks at the bomake market are pretty standardized. For instance, the going rate for a fatcake or an ice block is one lilangeni, pronounced lee-lan-gay-knee (the currency of Swaziland). The prices remain the same at most, if not all, of the school bomake markets in Swaziland. The homemade snacks (i.e., fatcakes) taste very similar all around the country as well. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

On the outside, looking in

​The year was 2011. I had purchased a roundtrip ticket from Washington, DC to Cape Town, South Africa. I would be vacationing in southern Africa for almost a month. I wanted to do all there was to do, and see all there was to see. While crossing a border (either from Mozambique to Swaziland, or Swaziland to South Africa), I started talking with one of the other passengers on the bus as we waited for everyone to clear customs and immigration. He asked me where I was from and if this was my first time in Africa. I told him that it was my first time, and that I lived in DC. He, a Mozambican  working in South Africa, went on to ask me how Africa was treating me. I let him know that I was enjoying my time and that everyone had been very welcoming and kind. His response has stayed with me, and probably will forever. He expressed happiness that Africa had been so welcoming. He told me that I was always welcome here, and that any family or friends would welcomed just as warmly across the continent. Wow! 

Fast forward to now. October 2016. I live in southern Africa. In Swaziland, on the border with South Africa. I have been asked family, friends, and locals if I’m scared, or worried, being so far away from home. I’m not. When I actually reflect on the state of affairs around the globe (especially in the US), I’m actually worried to return to the US. I’m a burly, bearded 30-something Black man, and I have feared and would fear for my safety in various parts of the US much more than here in Swaziland. 

Last year, as riots filled the streets of Baltimore (a 40 minute drive north of DC), I watched news coverage from my living room. People were fed up with another Black man dying at the hands of law enforcement officers. That evening, I received a text message from my brother saying, “Stay safe. It’s only a matter of time before the revolution makes down there (to DC).” Since I left the US in June, there have been even more Black people to die at the hands of law enforcement. There aren’t the same massive protests that seemed commonplace even a year ago when Black people were killed by law enforcement. I doubt that the protests can keep up with the shootings. As I write this, I think about that text message from my brother. I think about sending him a similar message. It’s a strange dichotomy. Some family and friends fear for my safety here in Swaziland, while I have similar fears for their respective safety across the US. 

In contrast to the many law enforcement shootings at home, I feel really safe, warm, and welcomed here in Swaziland. This is the country that has been called one of the friendliest in Africa. I’ve only seen one police officer with a firearm, and that was weird to see. The biggest fear of crime against me that I have here is being robbed or having something stolen, which is miniscule compared to my worries about speaking siSwati more fluently and being understood. 

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.