The Service Soundtrack

Recently, there’s been time to reflect. Next month, I’ll be leaving the my home of the past two years for the next chapter. I’ve reflected on my service and time here in eSwatini. I’ve reflected on the Peace Corps experience, and the interactions that I’ve been privileged to have. It would be extremely difficult to reduce this experience to a few words. I’m not sure I would have the words to describe the multitude of everything. Some months back, I stumbled upon this post from a RPCV (Peru). A service playlist. I thought it was a nifty idea, so I’m borrowing it.

The following songs have varied significance to my time here. Some have reminded me of my purpose. Others have allowed me to daydream and wander. All of them are pretty awesome. Be forewarned–some songs do include NSFW language. I have included some lyrics that spoke to me from each song.

Trophies – Drake

“what’s the move?/
Can I tell the truth?/
If I was doing this for you, then there’d be nothing left to prove./
Nah. This for me tho./
I’m just trying to stay alive, and take of my people.”

  • There are no gold stars for Peace Corps service. No medals. Sometimes, there may be an “attaboy”, but don’t count on it. A large part of this experience has been becoming a part of the community. These are my folks. As such, I genuinely want to see my folks thrive because if they thrive, I thrive.

Straight Up and Down – Bruno Mars

“girl, I bet ya mama named you Good Looking, cuz you sho look good to me”

  • This entire album takes me back to Christmas 2016 when I was headed on vacation. The lyrics. The music. The everything. Hearing this made me (and still makes me) wish I was on somebody’s dance floor. I remember the joy of being on the beaches in Madagascar surrounded by beautiful people and sights.

Love Yourz – J. Cole

“always gonna be a bigger house somewhere, but n*gga feel me/
long as the people in that motherf*cker love you dearly”

  • When we were assigned to our permanent communities, staff and more seasoned PCVs told us not to compare. Of course, some of us did. There are many things that could have been. There will always be things that are bigger, faster, more efficient, etc. It’s a choice to surround yourself with love and appreciate what you have. It’s a struggle to keep this mindset though. Jealousy is real. FOMO is real. For me, it has taken regular reminders of the song lyrics, “…no such thing as a life that’s better than yours…”

Price of Fame – Big K.R.I.T

“yeah we were broke, but that life was simple/
besides food is food, water is water, air is air. The rest is mental.”

  • There is certain joy ever present in my little sisi‘s (pronounced see-see), or sister’s laugh. Seeing her reminds me of my childhood: changing into our play clothes after school, exploring the small part of the community we were allowed to explore, inventing or altering games for our friend group to play. She (and many children around eSwatini) reminds me to enjoy the simple things in life. In my community and around eSwatini, I’m somewhat of a celebrity. Sometimes, it’s because I’m an American. Other times, it’s because I look like the urban poet Rick Ross. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype sometimes. Reminder to self: the hype is only hype.

Tigi – Sands

udlala kabi um’udlalangehlitiyo” (you play bad; you playing with my heart)

  • This song has been popular during my entire service. On any eSwatini dance floor, the beginning of the song is a signal to everyone in the area to make their way to the dance floor. I’ve been to several party/club/pub nights when this song has been played several times without loss of enthusiasm. Because of the song’s popularity, I used it in my classes to teach some of the nuances of language. Students translated this song into English and translated John Legend’s All of Me into siSwati.

I’m Not Racist – Joyner Lucas

“I’m not racist. But I cry a lot/
you don’t know what it’s like to be in the frying pot./
You don’t know what it’s like to be minding your own business, and get stopped by the cops/
and not know if you bout to die or not.”

  • It’s safe to say that the America we left in June 2016 is different. Hearing about the assaults and murders of Black folks across America took me back to 2004/5 when news outlets reported on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been times during my service when America seems like a literal war zone for Black folks. As a burly Black man, I’m less than excited to return. I’m not excited to have encounters with law enforcement that may result in death. I’m not excited to face overt racism and prejudice that may result in the aforementioned encounters with law enforcement and/or death. In fact, I’m borderline terrified.

Faithful – Common ft. Bilal

“I was rolling around–in my mind, it occurred/
what if God was a her?/
Would I treat her the same?/
Would I still be running game—on her?
In what type of ways would I want her?”

  • God is a big deal in eSwatini. There are churches throughout eSwatini. I’ve learned that the majority of Swazis identify as Christians. I’ve also seen massive inequalities concerning the treatment of women and girls. It makes me wonder if the patriarchy would be as strong if things were different. It introduces a new dynamic. If women and girls were held in the same reverence as God, would there be cause for debate and legislation about keeping women and girls safe?

Gobisiqolo – Bhizer

tem tem tem gobisiqolo

  • This song has been a party favorite for my entire service. If there’s a dance floor (or general space to dance), dancing is all but guaranteed to start with this track. While I don’t know the exact translation for “Gobisiqolo”, it’s a dance that involves popping your back. Like “Tigi” by Sands, I don’t know if it’s possible to hear this jam and not dance. It was also cool to hear this song used in the Black Panther movie. #WakandaForever

I Know Better – John Legend

“there are kinks in my past/
things no one could be proud of/
but I stand in the light I’ve cast/
and turn away from any lack of love/
when I walk through that door/
I say “here I go”/
You see me, and nothing more, I’m singing what I know”

  • I’ve grown tremendously since coming to the kingdom of eSwatini. I realized about a year into my service that I was in the right place for me at this time in my life. I started an application for Peace Corps when I was finishing grad school in 2008. Because of the length of application and other excitement in my life, I didn’t finish the application. Entering service at that point in my life would not have been as beneficial. Experiencing my life, as is, has been crucial. The bumps and bruises have taught me. The missteps and failures have added to the man that I am today.

Dear Mama – Tupac Shakur

“there’s no way I could pay you back; but the plan is to show you that I understand.”

  • You are appreciated. I’ve had two host mothers in the kingdom. My host mothers took me in and taught me the ways of eSwatini. When people ask me questions about the kingdom and I know the answer, much of that is attributable to my host mothers and their teachings (both direct and indirect). Being in a new place can be scary. Add to that different language and cultural norms. My host mothers balanced being firm, fair, and kind. My life is definitely better for having them in it.

Cry No More – Phonte

“My sons look at me these days, and think I’m certified/
preparing them for a world they’ll be deserted by/
internalize/
Black man, if you get a teaspoon of compassion, that’s more than double the serving size”

  • This spoke to me. While I don’t have any children, I hope to join the ranks of parenthood some day. As a teacher and long time mentor, I’m often looked to for answers. This has been especially true being the American face in the community. It’s strange to be in a space of offering whatever guidance I have, but still needing guidance and counsel. I suspect that this will always be the case.

Blessed – Daniel Caesar

“Yes/
I’m a mess/
But I’m blessed to stuck with you.”

  • We enter Peace Corps service as a part of a cohort. My cohort, group 14, is an amazing group of humans. Often, I have to remind myself that although things may not always be pretty, I’m thankful to have these government issued friends. I’ve grown because of them, and for that, I’m grateful.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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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. 

Sweet Dreams – Surprise Me

Because I am posted in a country where I might contract malaria, I have been given an antimalarial medication called, “Mefloquine”. One of the side effects of this medication is lucid dreaming. The following is what I dreamt last night (as best I can remember). 

I was living in some connected townhouses. Single story. There were several different blocks of townhouses on the compound. I’m not sure what everyone did, but we all worked for the same company. So I guess it was company housing. 

Some friends who didn’t work for the company came over to my house to celebrate. I think it was my birthday. We had a fairly large party at my house on the compound, but my house wasn’t big enough to sleep everyone who came. Apparently, this was an all weekend affair. Some of my colleagues in company housing were generous to offer their houses for my friends. 

The next day, I’m awake and walking around the housing compound in search of my friends. I find a few of the guys. We chill and talk. Later that morning, some of the girls find us. We continued chilling and talking. One of the girls says that she has a surprise for me. We get in her car and she drives around the city for a while. Eventually, we’re in a seemingly deserted part of the city. I vaguely recognize the place. We’re approaching either a US embassy or U.N. compound. There are several white cars parked around the grounds. My friend tells me that I’m going to like my surprise. I asked if it’s going to be better than my party. She said that it would be. 

Finally, we drive into a building. Think revolving door for cars where you check your car like you would check a coat. We get out of the car in the lobby. We get onto a very large, spacious freight elevator. I can tell that we are going down. We keep descending. How many underground floors does this building have? My friend tells me to close my eyes. I do, reluctantly. I don’t remember leaving the freight elevator. But, the elevator stopped moving and all of the scenery of the elevator changed. There was now a massive tv and I was sitting on some kind of couch. I asked my friend what was going on. She said that it was a surprise and that I’d just have to wait a few more moments. She turned on the tv and started playing a movie. I could tell by the music that it was in the Police Academy series. It was Police Academy 8. I was super happy and excited to watch it. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward.

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Sweet Dreams – Water Theme Park

Because I am posted in a country where I might contract malaria, I have been given an antimalarial medication called, “Mefloquine”. One of the side effects of this medication is lucid dreaming. The following is what I dreamt last night (as best I can remember). 

​I was with one or two friends when we decided to visit a theme park. We were very excited to spend the day riding the rides and enjoying the water. This was mostly a water park. One of water slides was made completely of wooden boards. I’m not sure how anyone was able to slide down, but we did. 

The biggest attraction at the theme park was their really big pool. I thought it was the ocean. There were small boats and people sharing the space. My friends and I decided we would get a boat for activities. There was water skiing, tubing and other things. At some point, I think our boat is a little low in the water. I think we’re sinking. My friend who’s driving the boat says that there is nothing to worry about, so I stop worrying and continue with activities. While water skiing, I managed to fall down. At first, I was still holding on to the handle. Eventually, my grip loosened and I let go. In the midst of this, my swimming shorts came off and were nowhere to be found. I swam back to the boat, which was clearly sinking now. We managed to get back to the shore. I didn’t have any other clothes to put on, so I had to walk around naked. I decided that I should ride the wooden water slide one last time. I did. It was only slightly more painful without swimming shorts. 

As we were leaving, there were three theme park workers at the exit. They were selling college funds for babies, insurance for babies, and funeral services for babies. When I declined the college funds and insurance, one of the workers said that I really needed to look into the funeral services for babies. I told her that my wife would be mad at her for suggesting that our baby should die. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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​Monday in a Picture – Thanksgiving

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving, an American holiday of food, family, and football. For those who may not know, Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated here in Swaziland. It’s simply another Thursday in November. For the occasion, our country director invited all of the volunteers in Swaziland to her beautiful home for a momentous feast. I wasn’t able to get pictures of all of the food, but the above collage is a bit of what our eyes and tastebuds enjoyed on Thursday afternoon. 

While the chefs were putting the final touches on the meal, I was able to relax by the pool and chat with other volunteers. There was also badminton and other backyard games to be played. This was definitely the first Thanksgiving that I was able to chill in a pool and soak up some sun. I could used to Thanksgiving as a summer holiday. 

Several volunteers and staff helped prepare various delicious dishes. It was indeed, a feast. There were four turkeys (two baked, two fried), a roasted pig, and a sizeable salmon. We enjoyed several types of stuffing, macaroni and cheese, fried cabbage, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green bean casserole and more. There were appetizers to whet our palettes, and desserts to satisfy the most distinguishing sweet tooth. 

I have a newfound respect and admiration for those who host large holiday gatherings at their home. There were more than 70 of us. There were dietary restrictions and food allergies to be observed, but there was still something for everyone. 

I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly give thanks and gratitude to our country director for hosting us in her home (and for taking suggestions on the menu); all of the volunteers here in Swaziland, for being a supportive and amazing group of folks; all of the chefs who made the meal magical; and my brother and uncle, for WhatsApping me their Thanksgiving greetings. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Less than ten days to go!

There are officially less than ten days before I begin my Peace Corps service. With a little over a week left, it’s surreal.

I have (finally) packed my first piece of checked luggage. I am in the final stages of moving out of my home for past 6+ years. I made the decision that I will be getting rid of anything that is not going with me. There is nothing like a major move to be a reminder that I have entirely too much stuff. It feels great to be letting go of so much as I prepare for the next chapter in my life. 

image
Bag one. ✔

I have begun to share farewells with friends. I will be going to my final (for a while) November Project DC workouts this week. I will also be hosting a farewell happy hour hangout on Friday. Feel free to come workout and/or hang if you’re in the DC area.

I have been told that the next week will fly. I am excited for whatever the future holds.

Onward.