Monday in a Picture – COS (the conference)

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.
Onward.

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Indlovukazi, or YAASSS QUEEN

I’ve written many times here about how confusing the siSwati language can be. This post isn’t entirely about that. (I should note that my students frequently remind me that English is extremely difficult, and I agree.) One example of siSwati’s confusion is any number of ways to refer to males and females. Umfana (pronounced oom-fa-nah) and lijaha (pronounced lee-jah-ha) both refer to an individual boy. Bhuti wami (pronounced boo-tee wah-me) and mnaketfu (pronounced oom-nah-gate-foo) both mean “my brother”. Make (pronounced mah-gay) means “mother”, but it’s also used at times to mean “woman”. Umfati (pronounced oom-fah-tee) means “wife”, but is also used to mean “woman” at times. Dzadzewetfu (pronounced zah-zay-wait-foo) and sisi wami (pronounced see-see wah-me) both mean “my sister”.

On my homestead, my host family consists of my host mother and sister. Others may come back at certain times of the year. One of the people who comes back often is my host brother, who lives and works in South Africa. He speaks many languages including Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and English. Sometimes, I understand the Zulu and very small pieces of Sesotho. When my brother speaks to our little sister, I try to follow the conversation. Luckily, most times it’s siSwati or Zulu. I noticed that whenever he addressed her, he always started “Indlovukazi…”. That’s not her given name (which no one uses) or her nickname (which everyone, including our make, uses). I kept hearing it.

Indlovukazi, ufunani kudla (what do you want to eat)?

Indlovukazi, ufundze njani (how was school)?

Indlovukazi…

Indlovukazi…

One day, I decided to ask him what Indlovukazi meant. He chuckled, and explained that Indlovukazi (pronounced en-jlo-voo-gah-zee) means “queen” in Zulu. (In siSwati, it’s Indlovukati). He went on to explain that he wants her to grow up knowing that she’s a queen and demand to be treated accordingly. He explained that it’s his responsibility as an older brother to demonstrate how the world should regard her. It’s true. Our little sister might have a few names and be called many things in her lifetime. I can only hope that she remembers she is Indlovukazi.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – I would like to publicly thank my students who make sure I rise to the challenge of learning and speaking siSwati.

Rolling siSwati and toddler fluency

A few weeks ago, I was leaving school to go home. As I pass the gate and say bye to the students, I hear “c’ombole” as one of the students points to my bike. The confused look on my face lets them know that I don’t understand. “Cela boleke“, they clarify. I’m understanding a little better now.

One of the students explains c’ombole is the shortened version of cela boleke (pronounced click c-eh-la bo-lay-gay) meaning “please borrow me…/may I borrow…”. In this instance, the student was asking to borrow my bike. The student who explained the shortened siSwati went on to entertain my lamenting about how siSwati changes whenever I feel like I have a handle on it. She explained the concept of rolling siSwati by comparing it to English contractions and various stylistic preferences (that are present when speaking any language).

In English, “How are you doing?” becomes “How you?”; “cannot” becomes “can’t”; and “Where are you?” becomes “Where you at?” In siSwati, “uyakuphi” (pronounced oo-ya-goo-pee) becomes “uyaku” (pronounced oo-ya-goo) or “uya” (pronounced oo-yah). No meaning is lost, and the listener understands you want to know where s/he is going. This is not to be confused with “ukuphi…” (pronounced oo-goo-pee) meaning “Where is (a person)?” Sometimes, this gets rolled into “uku…” (pronounced oo-goo) or “uphi…” (pronounced oo-pee). Take for example the phrase, “ufuna ini ku wati” (pronounced oo-foo-nah ee-knee goo wah-tee). In everyday siSwati, this phrase becomes “ufunani kwati” (pronounced oo-foo-nah-knee gwah-tee). Both phrases are asking what you want to know.

With these realizations, I decided that I would focus on speaking and listening rather than reading and writing. One of the things that has helped me with this focus is a mobile voice recording app. When I hear a word or phrase I don’t understand, I record myself enunciating the word or phrase several times in siSwati with its English meaning. From time to time, I go back and listen to the recordings to refresh my memory. In that vain, I’d suspect that I’m around the fluency of an average toddler. Maybe a slightly below average toddler. Like toddlers, my subjects don’t always agree with my verbs. Sometimes, I mispronounce things. It’s possible that I might need something explained repeatedly. But eventually, we all understand. My conversations with toddlers and preschoolers are awesome, as everyone understands what’s being said. Sometimes, I can manage a conversation with my gogo, or grandmother.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

​Everyone has a part of the story 

During our first three months in Swaziland, we had all kinds of training. There was technical training and language training. There was training about the history and culture of Swaziland. There was probably more training that I have since forgotten. 
One of the things that I haven’t forgotten is a session in which we watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk about the danger of a single story

My story is, indeed, a single story. It is one of many. A single, personal view of a complex world. During this session, our training manager advised us not to perpetuate the single story of Africa being a singular, homogenous experience, culture, and people. After all, Swaziland is only a piece of Africa. And even in the kingdom of Swaziland, there are varied cultures and experiences among 1.2 million Swazis. In the spirit of promoting multiple varied stories and viewpoints, I would like to share some of my favorite blog posts from PCVs around the globe. 

This post was inspired by Nicole, also in Swaziland, who also wrote about the danger of a single story. I have been inspired by Alexa discussing the gifts from the garden in Uganda. Alison captured the magic and mystery of Swazi greetings and praise names. There is Abbie’s insightful look into things that are uniquely Moroccan. Ally listed common phrases that are heard throughout Swaziland, but would be unusual in America. I read about April’s language challenges in Kosovo, and was comforted by a shared struggle. Recently, Nate explored what the first day of school looks like in Swaziland. Nathalie shared the things that she’s learned in her first six months as a PCV in Swaziland. Faith, in Tanzania, compiled many memes about serving as a volunteer of color

Feel free to link to some of your favorite PCV blog posts in the comments.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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​Yebo babe! – What They Call Me, Part One 

While speaking with an American here in Swaziland, we were discussing the various ways that I am addressed and how certain greetings are used. I have been called different things by different people around Swaziland. Very rarely do I hear my given American name, Kirby. Most often, I hear my given Swazi name, Sibusiso (pronounced see-boo-see-sew). 

I’ve been greeted by men, young and old, who say, mnaketfu (pronounced umm-na-gate-foo), or my brother. Sometimes, I’m called bhuti (pronounced boo-tee), or brother. These two greetings are interchangeable. 

School children and some others around my community and Swaziland refer to me as babe (pronounced bah-bay), or father. This term is also used when addressing married men. While I have not been married or fathered any children, I’m still referred to as babe. I’ve found that when I greet a woman as make (pronounced mah-gay), or mother, she almost always refers to me as babe. I suspect that this is due to the greeter seeing that I appear to be of marrying, fathering age, and not wanting to be disrespectful. This tends to remain true even if the greeter knows that I am unmarried and childless. Respect is huge here in Swaziland. 

There have been some occasions when I have been referred to as mkhulu (pronounced mmm-koo-loo), or grandfather. When I hear this, I chuckle to myself. This has happened most with young children (maybe 3-5 years old). Maybe they see the wisdom bursting through in my salt and pepper hair. 

More rarely, I’m referred to as malume (pronounced ma-loo-may), or uncle, by transport conductors or teenaged folks in the community. I tend to hear this most when taking transport or around the bus rank. Then, there are a few men around my community who always say umbebenene (pronounced oom-bay-bay-nay-nay), or big beard, when they see me. I wasn’t sure if they were talking to me or talking about me. It doesn’t matter. My beard and I now see this as mere appreciation of the massive facial follicles. 

There are probably other things that people call me that I haven’t realized yet. I reckon that one day I’ll know the nuances of what I’m called here in Swaziland. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S. – Yebo babe (pronounced yea-bow bah-bay) is a greeting that I hear, and use, often. The direct translation is ‘yes father’, and it is a simple acknowledgment of a man you see.

Stage Fright

​One of the things that has been required of us, as Peace Corps volunteers in Swaziland, is ongoing language learning. This makes perfect sense to me. As we learn more about Swazi culture and start to understand it better, language is key. 

I have found an amazing language tutor who is patient enough to answer my “but why is like this instead of like this” questions, and stern enough to correct me when I’m wrong (repeatedly). 

If I were to do an honest self-assessment, I’d say that my language skills have definitely improved since ending our pre-service training (albeit in miniscule increments). My language skills have improved dramatically since coming to Swaziland almost five months ago. At this point in my language learning, I’m able to semi-confidently hold a conversation with a preschooler. I’m proud of this. I want to be able to confidently have intense conversations with peers and boMkhulu (pronounced bo-mmm-koo-loo) or elder men/grandfathers in the community. I want to be able to understand jokes and be sarcastic in siSwati. I want to understand what folks are asking for when they come to my homestead. I would like to go a day without speaking English, but not be silent. My host make (pronounced mah-gay), or mom, recently told me that next year, no English will be spoken. SiSwati only. Of note: she told me when I first arrived that I must speak siSwati. “Sibusiso, you’re not in America anymore. We speak siSwati here.” 

I think I’ve identified what one of the bigger barriers is for me currently. Stage fright. My receptive language is definitely getting better. I can understand some of what’s said in small talk conversations on khombis (local mass transport vans). My expressive language is where my stage fright is the star of the show. I start to wonder if I actually heard what I thought I heard. Do I have the language to respond to that? Do I have enough vocabulary to keep the conversation going? Do I just want to use the fail safe phrase? Angiva (pronounced ah-knee-va), or I don’t understand. I guess the only way to overcome it is to keep practicing and understanding that failing doesn’t mean failure. After all, winning the World Series is impossible if you never step up to the plate and take a swing. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S. – Did you know that @whatisKirbydoing is an Instagram handle? Be sure to follow the fun. 

Uyasikhuluma singisi?, or 50 Shades of SiSwati

I’m happy to announce that PST is quickly approaching its end. We are less than one week away from officially swearing in as Peace Corps volunteers. I am very excited to move to my permanent site, and start settling in. This past week, my training cohort and I completed another series of interviews to assess our readiness to serve as Peace Corps volunteers. One of those interviews was the Language Proficiency Interview, or LPI. It’s a special feeling to be sitting across from the tester, and not knowing what is being said.

We have been going to language lessons between four to six times per week since mid-June. Learning siSwati has presented various challenges for me. I am not fluent in any language other than English. I know some pleasantries in Spanish, and bit less in French and Russian. One of the things that initially scared me about siSwati is that it’s a tonal language with clicks. The language has many more complexities than I initially thought. There’s the subject-verb agreement, which I am used to. Then, there’s something called the subject concord, which also has to agree. I won’t get into that.

While I find siSwati challenging, I also find it intriguing. Like many languages, there are words that don’t translate directly. For example, there is no direct translation for “respiratory therapy” in siSwati. Instead, a siSwati speaker would say “one who helps with illnesses of the chest”. Contrast this with the word, “divorce”. There is no translation, direct or otherwise, for “divorce”. I have also learned that there is no direct or indirect translation for “affair” (as in the extramarital type) or “orgasm”. Then, there’s a siSwati word, tsandza. Tsandza means “like”, as in “I like chicken”. But tsandza also means love, because there is no proper siSwati word for love. So, ngitsandza inkhukhu could mean “I like chicken”, or “I love chicken”.

It was also a transition to get used to how words are made into plurals. In English, there is one dog, but two dogs. In siSwati, there is one inja, but two tinja. In English, you have one sister, and two brothers. In siSwati, you have one sisi, and two bobhuti.

Overall, it’s been great learning the language. Everyone has been very kind and patient with my language learning struggles and triumphs. This includes the lady who didn’t get angry or upset when I insisted on her giving me a wife, when I thought I was trying to order a fatcake (a delicious, fried doughy pastry).

Thank you very much, or Ngiyabonga kakhulu.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.s. – Uyasikhuluma singisi? translates into “do you speak English?”

Some questions. Some answers.

There’s a certain lustre and mystique that surrounds Peace Corps. At least, it seems that way when people find out that I’m departing for Peace Corps service next Tuesday. With several recent conversations in mind, I would like to answer some questions that have come up frequently.

Where are you going?
– I’ll be going to Swaziland.

Where is that?
– It’s in southern Africa.

So, you’re going to South Africa?
– No. Swaziland is a sovereign nation. It borders South Africa (and Mozambique), but it is separate.

Oh, Swaziland! That’s the little country that’s inside of South Africa?
– No. You’re probably thinking of Lesotho, another sovereign nation in southern Africa.

So, what exactly will you be doing?
– I’m not sure. It will be something related to youth.

Where will you be living?
– I know that I’ll be in Swaziland. Aside from that, I haven’t a clue.

So, you’re not going to have electricity and running water?
– Those things definitely aren’t guaranteed, and I’m okay with that.

What about internet?
– Internet is available, but it is not as fast and widespread as in the US. As such, internet based communications might be slower.

Why Peace Corps?
– Short answer. Why not? Longer answer. I believe in community, collaboration and creative problem solving. There is a certain “can-do” attitude of many returned Peace Corps volunteers that resonates heavily with me.

Why Swaziland?
– The Peace Corps sends volunteers where they are needed (and requested). I made myself available for anywhere in the world. It was decided that I could be of service in Swaziland.

What do your family and friends think about all of this?
– Most of my family and friends are very supportive. Those who are less than supportive respect my autonomy in my own life.

What are you doing with all of your stuff?
– I have packed two pieces of checked luggage, a backpack to carry on, and a messenger bag as my personal item. Everything else has been sold, donated, gifted, thrown away, used/consumed or otherwise disposed of.

Are you going to be able to come back?
– During service, volunteers are allowed to return to the US at their own expense. In short, this is an option though, I’m not sure how viable it is at this time.

How long are you going to be in Swaziland?
– Peace Corps is a 27 month commitment.

What are you going to do after Peace Corps?
– I’m not sure.

How can I keep in contact with you?
– I will attempt to update this blog with some degree of frequency. I will also have a phone, and hopefully, some data (internet). Let me know if you would like my new number. My email will remain the same. Texting will be best using WhatsApp (Android and iOS). Phone calls may be available for limited amounts of time.

Can I send you fan mail, care packages, postcards, etc.?
– Absolutely! All mail should be sent to

Kirby P. Riley, PCV
US Peace Corps
PO Box 2797
Mbabane H100
Swaziland, AFRICA

Please notice the emphasis on AFRICA. This is important as mail can end up in Switzerland. And we just wouldn’t want that to happen. Additionally, please write some sort of Christian sayings or scriptures (“God loves you.”) on any packages to help them get to me. Please don’t send anything that breathes, spoils, or leaks. Lastly, use USPS (cheapest option available – i.e., no expedited/express/etc.) when sending packages because everything takes between 2-10 weeks to get from the US to Swaziland.

What language do they speak?
– Swaziland has two official languages, English and sis-Swati.

Will you be learning sis-Swati?
– Yes.

What are you most excited about?
– This is a new experience with new people. The possibilities are endless. That excites me.

What are you most nervous about?
– My immediate nervousness stems from making sure I’m fully packed and don’t forget something important. Generally, I’m nervous about completely uprooting my life to move to an unfamiliar place.

Onward.