Last week, my cohort (group 14) came together for one last Peace Corps sponsored training. We assembled in the Lubumbo region of eSwatini for our Close of Service (COS) conference. This conference signals the beginning of the end. It’s held about three months before a group is set to leave.
We had our COS conference at a secluded nature reserve with beautiful views and spacious chalets. This was also the last time that we had to take a language proficiency test, which assessed how our language skills have grown throughout our service. We discussed the paperwork and conversations that need to be completed before we leave. We gave three stool samples to ensure that we aren’t leaving with parasitic friends in our respective bowels. We reflected on the work that we’ve done. We began to prepare for the adjustment and reverse culture shock that likely awaits us in America. We discussed how to best represent our service as we seek move on to careers, school or retirement. It was a full week.
While I’ll greatly miss eSwatini and emaswati (pronounced eh-mah-swah-tee), or Swazi people, I am excited for life after Peace Corps. The picture above was taken by PCV Nate during a session with a panel of RPCVs.
Be kind to yourself.
I’m writing this on the Saturday before Christmas. There are two times every year when people return to their respective family’s homestead. Good Friday/Easter is one of those times. Christmas is the other. Several extended family members from my host family have returned to my gogo’s (pronounced go-go), or grandmother’s homestead to celebrate Christmas.
Two days ago, my family slaughtered a cow and sent it to the butcher. My host make (pronounced mah-gay), or mother, told me that I should be a gogo’s homestead on Saturday for a family gathering. My host bhuti (pronounced boo-tee), or brother, asked me to help him braai the meat. I was honored to be asked to assist.
This morning, my bhuti knocked on my door to let me know that it was time to start the festivities. We went to the store to pick up some spices and beer. When we returned to gogo’s homestead (down the road from my homestead), some people had already arrived. Some of our cousins had started the fire in the braai stand already. I grabbed my apron while my bhuti seasoned the meat. There was at least 10 kilograms of beef to be grilled. It had been a while since I’d been at the helm of a grill, and it was my first time using a braai stand. Luckily, the concept and function is the same.
As grilling commenced, people slowly gathered around. I spent most of the afternoon on the braai stand, and I was extremely happy. My bhuti made sure that I took breaks so that I could enjoy the food as well. There’s a certain magic that occurs when good people gather for a good time with good food. Imagine a block party meeting a family reunion mixed with Christmas dinner. That was today. The speakers blasted tunes as folks danced after they ate. Home brewed beer flowed freely. Community members, friends of the family, and friends of friends came over for food and fellowship. Today was a good day. It’s one of those days that makes me happy to be a part of this human experience. I’m thankful that I have been welcomed and embraced into my family, community, and all of Swaziland.
The above picture of me and my bhuti doing/discussing braai things.
Be kind to yourself.
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.
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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.
When a cow, or inkhomo (pronounced inn-co-moe), is slaughtered, there is a lot of meat. The meaty goodness is a carnivore’s dream. After everyone has had some meat, rice or porridge, and cabbage, bobabe (pronounced bo-bah-bay), or men, gather around dishes filled with more meat.
This past weekend when this happened, one of the men invited me to join them as they prepared to eat from the meat filled dishes. On these dishes was something of a Swazi delicacy. It was the cow’s head. The picture above is only half of the cow head meat.
I had heard stories about the sacredness of the cow head, how delicious it was, and how women are discouraged from consuming it. According to some beliefs, fertility problems might come to women who eat the cow’s head. I’ve also been told that eating cow head meat increases intelligence and virility in men.
I sat down with the men and we started to eat. There were no plates, no cutlery, and no napkins. There was a beautiful sense of community as we ate or half of the cow’s head. It I couldn’t tell you if I ate the cheek, tongue, neck, or other part of the cow head. I can guess that most of the meat was grilled, while some was boiled. What I can tell you (with certainty) is that whatever I ate, it was delicious. It was juicy and full of flavor. The cow head is probably the most flavorful and tender meat I’ve tasted since arriving in Swaziland. It did have a slight garlicky aftertaste, but it was nothing compared to the deliciousness.
Be kind to yourself.
One of the ways that I have been hanging out with my bobhuti na bosisi (brothers and sisters) is playing games at home. I bought a deck of playing cards, and learned a few tricks to share with my bobhuti na bosisi. The tricks were well received, and met with faces of wonder and amazement.
Some of my bobhuti decided to teach me some of the card games they play here. The first game they taught me was called, “Casino”. I still don’t understand how exactly it works. I do remember a few things about the game and its rules. Each card has a value. All numbered cards are that number’s value. Jacks are worth 11. Queens are worth 12. Kings are worth 13. Aces are worth either 14 or 1. To win, you have to build a home, which is a stack of cards. Whoever has the most spades in their home wins.
One of my bhuti taught me how to play a card game called, “AK-47”. Each player is dealt four cards. Each player begins her/his turn by picking up a card from the deck, which is face down, and discarding one card face up. A player can also pick up one card from the discarded pile. The goal of the game is to get an ace, a king, a four, and a seven. These cards do not have to be the same suit. This game was really simple to grasp. Because of that, I really enjoyed it.
Another game that my bobhuti taught me was called, “Stomach”. The cards are spread in a circle face down. Each player begins his/her turn by picking up any card in the circle and placing it face up in the center of the circle. When the next player starts her/his turn, s/he cannot repeat the suit on top of the face up pile. If the suit does repeat, that player must pick up the entire pile of face up cards. S/he will then turn over a new card to start a new face up pile. Once all of the cards in the face down circle are gone, the next player will play a card in the face up pile. Whatever card is played cannot repeat the suit of the card on top of the discard pile. If the suit is repeated, that player must pick up the entire pile. When a player has no more cards, that player wins. I asked one of the boys why the game was called, “Stomach”. He told me that towards the end of the game when a player has to pick up a large pile of cards, it looks like that person is pregnant or has a large stomach.
I’ll close by saying that while I have enjoyed playing with the children and learning about them through play, I am oft times amazed at the ingenuity of the children around the village. One boy made a model car with scrap metal rods and plastic bottle caps. He is able to steer the car with a metal rod that he pushes. Another boy has made several soccer balls using plastic grocery bags packed with the trash of the homestead. It’s pretty amazing.
Be kind to yourself.