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. 

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#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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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.

Photo Post: August 2016 (NSFW)

Warning: this post does contain one picture with nudity (bare breasts)

The cow chilling with the calf. Life in Nkamandzi is pretty good. 

Some extended family came over for the weekend. My bobhuti made swings for everyone to play on. 

After dinner, I wanted to capture the moment and the moon. Mostly, the moon. 

For host family appreciation day, some trainees donned traditional Swazi dress (lihiya and sidvasha). 

I haven’t encountered many training managers. But after being under the tutelage of Yemi, I can confidently say that she’s the best. 

My sikhoni, mzala (cousin), and me on host family appreciation day. Photo credit: Timmya D. 

Bhuti wami, make wami na mine. (My brother, my mother, and me). Host family appreciation day. Photo credit: Timmya D. 

One of the biggest traditions in the world, Umhlanga, celebrates the purity and chastity of young maidens. Also, called the Reed Dance, about 98000 young ladies and girls. 

When his majesty, King Mswati III arrives, he arrives! He attended Umhlanga also with dignitaries from Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania and, Lesotho to name a few. 

Extended family comes to town. Of course, pictures are in order. 

Before the host family appreciation day festivities, Nate gets his lihiya (traditional Swazi top dress) on properly with the assistance of a host make. 

As we prepared to leave Nkamandzi, another volunteer’s family had some of us over for dinner. Here, Nathalie (left) cooks rice on the open fire with Akirah’s make. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Photo Post: July 2016

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Three out of my four young bobhuti in my training host family. They wanted a picture. Wish granted.

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Half of our language class, with our thishela. It’s always the right time for a selfie.

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That’s me cutting the chicken’s neck while a thishela holds the chicken’s body. It’s a real farm to table experience. Photo credit – Timmya D.

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During a school visit, we were waiting on the teacher to show up. I entertained questions about life in America. Photo credit – Timmya D.

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Meet Deborah, right, and Lakia. These young ladies are in my cohort (G14). They graciously agreed to be subjects as I work on my photog skills.

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As a part of our training, we visited the sangoma, or traditional healer. He calls on the ancestors to heal folks of various ailments.

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We were privileged to journey to Milwane Game Reserve. A walk through the game park revealed stupendous sights.

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During our visit to the Matenga Cultural Village, Darah was invited up to join the dance. The cultural village educates people on Swazi culture and traditions.

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If you know me, you know I love bicycles. These bobhuti allowed me to ride their bike for a bit. No tires. No chain. No cog. No seat. No problem. Photo credit – Timmya D.

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Each one, teach one. Meaghan and Darah talk to some local children about gardening after our permagardening session.

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This is Letty. Her shirt caught my attention. I find out that a local guy makes them. I’m excited to buy local and support small business.

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At the end of a long day of a practicum, this permagarden is the result. Team work makes the dream work.

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After playing catch, they stopped for a picture. Lots of love captured here.

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I’m not sure who took this photo, but here are almost all of the currently serving volunteers (and trainees) at the Fourth of July celebration hosted by our country director. Peace Corps Swaziland!

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.