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 – All the Colours

This weekend, some fellow PCVs and I participated in the Star Point Rainbow Dash. This was a 5K (though Garmin recorded just over 3 kilometers) run/hike that supports the Sifundzani Primary School Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), as they support the school’s infrastructure. Hundreds of runners, walkers, and general fun lovers journeyed through Mbabane while being powdered with color. 

It was my first running event in Swaziland, and it definitely proved to be a perfect way to combine fun, fitness, and supporting the children. With Spring upon us in Southern Africa, it’s the season for running events. Last month, another group of Swaziland PCVs participated in a half marathon in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. Next month, Swaziland will host the King’s marathon (with half marathon and 10K options). I’ve been kicking around the idea of trying the 10K. We’ll see what the future holds. 

The top picture features Nicole, Akirah, and me after the run. The bottom picture is of participants after the run continuing the coloring. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Peace Corps Press Corps 

As you know from various posts last week (here and here), Swaziland recently celebrated young maidens (unmarried, childless girls and women) in the Umhlanga (pronounced oom-shlan-ga) ceremony. Umhlanga directly translates into reeds. One of our very own Swaziland PCVs participated this year with the regiment from her community. 

I was asked to document the event for Peace Corps Swaziland. I started preparing by trying to acquire a press pass. After different conversations with staff and other interested parties, I was given the contacts for an administrator of the foundation that supports Umhlanga. The contact, a Swazi prince, was able to provide me with the necessary email addresses and a list of documents that I would need to qualify for the press pass. All of this would have to be done in three days. 

I completed the paperwork and submitted the documentation. Time was passing, and I hadn’t heard anything. Finally, the day came for the maidens to deliver the reeds to the Queen Mother. I contacted the administrator at the foundation and received instructions on how to pick up my press pass. There was some confusion when I went to pick it up, but everything was sorted and I walked away with my very own press pass. 

I walked back to the stadium and joined the other media gathered at the event. As this was my first event as an official member of the media, I imitated the others in my attempt to not draw attention to my inexperience. They took pictures of regiments marching pass. I took pictures of those regiments. They stood behind a certain lamppost. I made sure I didn’t pass that point. Eventually, the king and his regiment arrived. With the wave of a hand, the media was invited over to photograph His Majesty King Mswati III on the red carpet. 

I was able to be on the field as the PCV maiden marched pass with her regiment. I was also able to photograph the regiment of senior princesses among others.

I received my invitation to Peace Corps Swaziland two years ago this month. If anyone would have told me then that I would be getting in high-five distance of and photographing the king, I wouldn’t have entertained the possibility. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by those challenge the notion that anything is impossible. The picture above was taken by Leslie M. as I was about to take pictures on the field. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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P.S. – This is one of the shots that I was able to get while the king was greeting international dignitaries. 

Monday in a Picture – Swazi Tradition

Last week, Peace Corps Swaziland swore in a new group of volunteers. It was the fifteenth installation of volunteers in the Community Health sector, and the seventh installation of volunteers in the Youth Development sector. The swearing-in ceremony itself is full of pomp and circumstance, with the US ambassador, members of the royal family, and other dignitaries in attendance. 

The evening of swearing-in day plays host to a different tradition. In Swaziland, PCVs (from all cohorts) and friends gather for a night of dancing, merriment, and fellowship at a local bar, aptly named The Pub and Grill. This tradition has been a part of festivities in Swaziland since G10 became volunteers in 2012. 

The above animation is of PCVs and friends dancing the night away last week to one of my favorite Swazi DJs, DJ Mkay.

Congratulations to the newly sworn in volunteers! 

Onward. 
Be kind to yourself. 

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Monday in a Picture – But first, we dance! 

As I was coming into a backpacker lodge one evening in December, another PCV was headed out. We had briefly exchanged hellos when she told me that she was heading to a salsa dance social. She invited me to join. My interest was piqued. Where is this social? When does it happen? How much does it cost? I was in luck because the social was walking distance from the lodge and it was free. I decided that I must be in attendance. 

The social was magical. The people were warm and welcoming. Everyone danced with such grace and poise. I tried to imitate and do what little I remembered from salsa lessons in DC. There was also salsa’s sexy cousin, bachata, and the sensual sensation known as kizomba. I told other PCVs about this majestic biweekly outing, and suggested that they come out. 

The young lady who initially invited me has since organized private group lessons for PCVs who want to learn the various dances, but can’t attend weekly classes. These classes and socials have been amazing mental health breaks during my service in Swaziland. It’s as if I’m transformed to another world. I never thought that I’d be refining my salsa skills in southern Africa, but such is life. The above picture was taken during one of our private group lessons. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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So, what exactly do you do? – a day in the life of a Peace Corps Swaziland volunteer extraordinaire

This question gets asked by many people. Community members and other Swazis are interested. Friends and family in America want to know. Friends that I haven’t met yet are curious. Of course, potential Peace Corps volunteers want a glimpse into what is potentially ahead of them. 

For starters, I’m a Youth Development volunteer in Swaziland. Unlike some Peace Corps sectors, like Education, we don’t have a preset schedule. We also don’t have a specific job description. We are given the opportunity to make our own daily itinerary and work within our framework. In Swaziland, we aren’t assigned to work with a particular organization or person. We’re assigned to an entire rural community. 

Though the days vary, I would like to present what a typical day for myself is like. 

I wake up between 0530 and 0630 during the week, and sometimes on weekends. I boil a kettle of water (to shower) while I do other morning tasks. After showering, I make breakfast (typically oatmeal with cinnamon and brown sugar) and get dressed. 

I try to leave my house by 0700, if I’m going to walk to the high school. I can leave at 0710 if I am going to bike. The school is just under two kilometers from my homestead. At school, I teach life skills. The school administration has also given me some class periods to teach “youth development”. While there is a full grade-specific curriculum for the life skills classes from the Ministry of Education, the youth development time is up to me and my creativity. 

I have taught lessons on resiliency, confidence, and leadership from various curriculums floating around Peace Corps. I have lead the students on team building and trust exercises. We tried to play some improv games, but that wasn’t successful. We have played a life skills board game designed by some PCVs who came before my time. I have discussed debatable topics before having students take positions and debate in class. There are also times when the students have vast questions about America. Being the resident American, I get to answer these questions. Sometimes, these question and answer sessions will last for an entire period. 

When I’m not teaching (which is often), I hang out in the staff workroom. Sometimes, I’m chatting with other teachers and trying to pick up more siSwati, or discussing life and ideas. Most times, I’m reading a book on the kindle. I bring my lunch to school everyday. It’s almost always leftovers from whatever I made the previous evening. I should mention that there are many impromptu conversations with students, teachers, administration and other community members that happen regarding possible activities, projects, and grants. Some of it pans out. Some of it doesn’t. Impromptu conversation is partly responsible for me teaching a class.

School dismisses at 1535. After school, I ride or walk home. I change into some kind of lounge wear and sit on my porch or go for a late afternoon bike ride. I’ll typically try to find my host mom to greet her, especially if I didn’t see her in the morning. Sometimes, neighbors or friends will stop by to chat. Sometimes, I read a book until the sun sets. This is also when I do my chores, like watering and weeding my garden, sweeping my house and porch, cutting grass or washing dishes. 

Around 1800, I start the process of cooking dinner. I am often distracted by a television show or movie, so I usually end up eating around 1900. After eating dinner and finishing whatever I’m watching, it’s time to go to bed (which is typically between 2030 and 2100). 

There are other things sprinkled in throughout the day. For example, I might hang out on Instagram looking for bearded PCVs to feature on @BeardsOfPeaceCorps. Sometimes, I’m asked to co-teach a class that relates to my interests, like economics or technology. My students have taught me how to play various card games. I’ve also led permagardening trainings in the community. In the interest of transparency, there are some days that I do nothing and thoroughly enjoy it. 

It is both daunting and freeing to be able to do whatever you want (within reason). You want to introduce baseball or ultimate frisbee? Go for it. You want to trick children into analyzing English by studying and listening to the music of Drake and Jay Z? Why not! I’m fortunate to be hosted by a community open to trying new ideas. Thankfully, most days are incredibly freeing. 

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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