Monday in a Picture – Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

One of the hottest tickets in town is to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s the newest of the institution’s museums, having opened its doors in 2016. While I heavily anticipated the opening, I started for service a few months before the grand opening. The internet and friends shared some of the hype and hoopla with the museum first opening. The long lines. The massive visitation numbers. The quality of the museum itself. The forethought put into its curation. I knew that I had to go. I thought that I’d just be able to walk up and get in. Passes are still needed to get in, as the museum is still drawing very high numbers of visitors.

One of the ways to get tickets is from the daily release of same day, timed passes (which are released around 0630 EST). The passes are free, and they are usually claimed within ten to fifteen minutes of release. I woke up early and tried to get passes for several days, but the internet decided it wasn’t my time. One day last week, I woke up a bit later and decided to check the website for passes. Lo and behold, there were some available. I successfully claimed a pass, got dressed, and had breakfast before excitedly biking down to the museum.

It was suggested that I start on the lowest level and work my way up. This allows for following the journey chronologically. The exhibit begins with history of African kingdoms and royalty, and includes snippets of everyday life for many West Africans whose descendants would be enslaved. Along the walls and in the background of the exhibit were the details of several slave ships that crossed the Atlantic. The museum does an amazing job of telling the story of the African journey to America including a highlight of a vessel carrying captured people that shipwrecked off the coast of South Africa. Walking through the levels allows one to walk through history with several artifacts on display. As I approached the end of the chronological history, I shed a few tears. There was something special about seeing parts of my life and childhood highlighted in a museum. Something special about hearing Tupac as the musical backdrop to the 1990s display.

For lunch, there is the Sweet Home Cafe. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s very tasty. I had the shrimp and grits, and it was delicious. Going up to the second floor, there was an exhibit on hip hop culture and an interactive experience with call and response stepping. I spent most of the day (> 5 hours) at the museum and didn’t get to see it all. I definitely plan to return once I get more passes. The above photos were taken during my day at the museum.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Yo Taxi!

There’s a running joke truth that a Black man (in America) can’t get a cab. For me, that’s rarely the experience but friends and other Black folks have experienced this first-hand, on a regular basis. I’ve been in Mumbai for a few days now. It’s a culture shock in many ways. There are around 18 million people in this city. It’s the most populous city in India, and one of the most populous in the world. There are many languages being spoken including Hindi (a national language) and Marathi (the state language for Maharashtra, where Mumbai is). The food is jumping with various spices and flavors. The traffic is busy. Crossing the street is an exercise in physics calculations and wishful thinking. Nevertheless, I digress.

To get around everywhere in Mumbai (outside of South Mumbai), many people use rickshaws. They get you where you need to be relatively quickly. More of them can fit on the congested streets. They’re perfect for city travel around Mumbai. On a few occasions now, I’ve approached a rickshaw driver to get transport to my destination. Some drivers shake their head to say no, while others verbally say the same. I don’t know if it’s more of the same “Black man can’t get a cab” type racism or if people would rather not deal with a foreigner who doesn’t really know the city nor the language(s). In the mean time, I’m trying to learn some of the local languages, so that I can communicate with drivers. We shall see.

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.

You Are Not Alone

Peace Corps service can be challenging by itself. Intersections of our identities can exacerbate those challenges. Luckily, these challenges are not new. Peace Corps Volunteers, currently serving and returned, have worked to create networks of support for the Peace Corps curious, applicants, invitees, trainees, and volunteers.

Below are various Facebook groups with descriptions. For those who don’t use Facebook, some of these communities a web presence elsewhere. Also, some of the communities require that you request access. I should note that none of these groups or pages are officially run by Peace Corps, and do not reflect the views of the organization.

Black Peace Corps Volunteers – “As Black people, we have a unique story to tell and this group will allow us to further the networking, fellowship, information-sharing, and service with all potential Peace Corps Volunteers, current PeaceCorps Volunteers, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).” There is also an associated Whatsapp group chat. You can get ask to be added in the Facebook group.

Divine 9 PCVs – “group serves as a forum to support Peace Corps Volunteers and RPCVs who are also a member of one of the 9 historically African American Greek Lettered Fraternities and Sororities.”

Southern Association of Black Peace Corps Volunteers – “…individual African American Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and supporters coming together to make a difference at home in our communities as well aboard in other communities.”

Minority Peace Corps Association – “Through partnerships, special events and outreach activities MPCA strives to strengthen Americans’ understanding about the world and its peoples, while promoting the mission of MPCA.”

Latino Peace Corps Volunteers – group for Latino R/PCVs. Has an affiliated Whatsapp chat group chat. You can get ask to be added in the Facebook group.

Asian American Pacific Islander Peace Corps Volunteers – “open group for PC applicants, current PCVs, RPCVs, and friends who are interested in AAPI issues related to Peace Corps.”

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Returned Peace Corps Association – “an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and other people who are Peace Corps volunteer alumni, current volunteers, former and current staff members and friends.” There is also a website.

Deaf/HH Peace Corps Volunteers – “Open to any deaf/hard of hearing returned Peace Corps Volunteer who wants to keep up with fellow deaf/hard of hearing RPCVs! Also open to any Deaf/hard of hearing future PCVs who have been invited to serve in the PC!! Also open to any interested friends and supporters!”

Native American Peace Corps Volunteers – “As people of Native American descent, we have a unique story to tell and this group will allow us to further the networking, fellowship, information-sharing, and service with all potential Peace CorpsVolunteers, current Peace Corps Volunteers, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).”

Shalom Corps – “a group to support Jewish PCVs, RPCVs, future PCVs and anyone interested in the Jewish Peace Corps connection. We aim to foster cultural exchange and fellowship, and be a resource to the Peace Corps community on Jewish issues and connect Peace Corps with the Jewish community.”

Peace Corps Christians – “a place for encouragement, motivation, and to record and remember God’s everyday miracles.”

Veteran Peace Corps Volunteers – “for United States Military Veterans that have also served, are currently serving or are interested in serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer.”

Muslim Peace Corps Volunteers – “a safe place for Muslim PCVs to connect and share experiences. Every type of Muslim is welcome here without restriction or judgement.”

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 – Embrace

Prior to Peace Corps, I wasn’t well acquainted with organized affinity groups. I was member to various groups focusing on shared interests, but they weren’t organized as affinity groups. Enter Peace Corps. There are affinity groups focusing on different identities and interests. One such affinity group here in Peace Corps Swaziland is known as Embrace. It’s an affinity group organized around the Black American PCV identity. 

This weekend, Embrace members gathered for a retreat. There were wonderful opportunities for team building, enhancing self-care practices, and fellowship. The above photo was taken during one of the sessions on self care. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

To be seen, or the visibility of Black PCVs

Some of the greatest advice I’ve ever received is to “be who you needed when you were younger”. This can apply to many things. Today, I’ll apply it to Peace Corps prep work. When preparing for Peace Corps service, many people search tirelessly for information. What will it be like? What do I pack? Where will I live? What will I be doing? Do I have enough snacks? Many times, this search leads to blogs and social media allowing soon-to-be/hopeful PCVs a vast information buffet. 

During my own search, I found a lot of information about Swaziland including blogs and social media accounts of PCVs preceding me. Despite the wealth of information available, I struggled to find written accounts of Black PCVs. This was especially true of Black men. That gap was part of the impetus for starting this blog. In FY 2016 (when I started service), Black PCVs made up 7.8% of the 10000 plus volunteers in service. In the interest of sharing the Black PCV experience around the world, I have linked the blogs of Black PCVs here, under other PCV blogs of interest on this blog. My hope is that potential PCVs and other interested folks find this page resourceful in their quest to gather information about Peace Corps. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

#GloPoWriMo 10/30: The Fruit

He stares at me
intently. 
Studying my being. 
He knows
something is different. 
That I’m not like them.
That I’m not like him. 
He hears in my accent
that this 
is not my home.
To be surrounded
but be alone. 
Told that
I’m not African
enough. 
Not Black
enough. 
If it’s us versus them, 
I was sure
that I was us.
But I’m not. 
Not enough
for the exclusive. 
Our ancestors
could have been neighbors, 
and this ain’t neighborly. 
I am not the enemy. 
We
have much more in common.
Perhaps our differences
aren’t that different. 
The same tree 
planted elsewhere. 
We are 
similar fruit.

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​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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​Umlungu myama – What They Call Me, Part Two

Last week, I started delving into what people call me and how I am addressed here in Swaziland. You can check out that post here

On more than a few occasions, people have questioned where I am from. When I respond that I am from Washington, DC, sometimes, I’m asked from which country (in Africa) my family and I originated. I’ve been told, by various folks in Swaziland, that I must be from Nigeria. I’ve also heard that I am Swazi. I’ve also been told that I from various other places. When I respond that I don’t know where our African origins lie, folks look closer to try to figure out where I am from. Some tell me that I couldn’t be from America. 

This typically leads to conversations about race and diversity in America. For some people who aren’t unaware of the presence of Black people in America, they may refer to me as umlungu myama (pronounced om-loon-goo mm-ya-ma). I was initially told that this means Black American. It was surprising to learn this because myama means black and umlungu means white person. When I first heard the term, I was confused as to how I could be a Black white person. Umlungu has since been clarified to also mean boss or foreigner. Umlungu myama makes a bit more sense, as one gentleman still thinks that I am of Nigerian origin.  In that sense, umlungu myama would mean Black foreigner. I’ve also heard Swazis use the term when describing me in siSwati to someone else. 

In the rarest of occasions, I’ve been referred to as umlungu, without myama. The person shouting in this instance is typically a young man trying to sell me something. I tend to ignore these instances, especially since it usually happens in a big city centre that I don’t frequent. Some things aren’t worth the bother. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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