Monday in a Picture – Auto Rickshaw

So far in India, I’ve been to two places: Mumbai and Goa. While Mumbai is in the state of Maharashtra, Goa is a state on its own comprised of several small cities and villages. While moving around Goa can be done by bicycle, motor bike, or taxi among other modes, moving around Mumbai presents several options. In addition to trains, buses, and taxis, there’s the auto rickshaw.

I should note that auto rickshaws are present in Goa as well, at least in Mapusa and Panaji. They just aren’t as popular as they are in Mumbai. When I needed to find one in Mumbai, I could (after going to different ones to find one to take me). The auto rickshaws in Mumbai are metered, starting at a base fare of 18 rupees and increase accordingly for distance and time spent waiting in traffic (which there is an abundance of). I was told that there is a night surcharge, which starts at a base fare of 24 rupees. I’m not sure what time the night surcharge starts. I travelled a few nights after 11 PM, and was not charged a night rate. For a ride of five kilometers, I paid around 75 rupees (just over $1 USD). In the south Mumbai region, auto rickshaws are not allowed so options are limited to trains, buses, taxis and walking.

To contrast Mumbai’s auto rickshaws, the same transport in Mapusa and the rest of Goa do not use meters. Prices are “negotiated” before riding. For a ride of ten kilometers, I paid around 220 rupees (which was negotiated down from 300 rupees). The picture above was taken from a bus window while sitting in Mumbai traffic.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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COS: A Reflection on Service

Today is my last day of service in the United States Peace Corps in eSwatini. More than two years ago, I packed up my home in DC and left with four bags heading to Swaziland via Philadelphia and New York. In these past two years, I have laughed and cried. Sometimes for no reason. I have taught and learned. I have gained a handle on some parts of the siSwati language, while completely butchering others. I have had a tremendous amount of time alone with myself and my thoughts. In addition to capacity building and diplomacy, my Peace Corps experience has been a radical experiment in getting to know myself and the surrounding world.

A few days ago, I met some young men while waiting for transport with another PCV. The conversation was similar to several others I’ve had around the kingdom. I talked a bit about my life here as did the young men. One of the young men spoke of his frustrations with school and home life. When he asked what he should do, I offered the advice that I could. Coincidentally, it was very similar to things that my mother and other wise folks have told me. As the other PCV and I made it to our destination, we talked about how the advice was a poignant reminder for us. My advice to the young man was, in many ways, guidance from my former self to the present and future versions of me.

Being here for the past two years has reminded me to embrace the idea of being who you needed when you were younger or in that situation. It may be offering a listening ear or a fresh perspective. It may be sharing some of the mistakes made to help those following not to make the same missteps. In many ways, that’s what I have strived for this blog to be. When I was in the process of applying for Peace Corps, I searched for blogs that reflected the Black PCV experience and, in particular, the Black male PCV experience. It was a difficult task. I remember finding a Black man serving in Indonesia on Instagram. I promptly began following him. I found a Black lady who had served in Georgia. She had an Instagram page connected to her blog, which chronicled her Peace Corps service and travels. I began following her. Their inspiration is part of what led to this blog.

Throughout the life of this blog, I have received feedback on how the blog has helped folks in various ways. Family and friends have learned about eSwatini as I have shared about this experience. Currently serving PCVs in other posts have shared how similar (or different) their host countries are. RPCVs have taken the opportunity to look back and reflect on their own service and life. Swazis have (mostly) appreciated reading about the Swazi culture from an outsider’s view. Prospective PCVs have reached out to ask questions in preparing for their own journey. I am thankful that this blog has served whatever purpose you needed it to serve.

My service has taught me many things. It has opened up new worlds, and allowed me to explore those worlds. I’ve realized that to some folks, I’m their eyes into eSwatini. The eSwatini that I see and speak of is the eSwatini that they know. To realize this power is humbling. To be an authoritative voice of a country (and at times, a continent) and the human experience there is an amazingly tall task. It’s a privilege that I don’t feel that I’ve earned. But that is the crux of privilege. These unearned advantages. Being here has definitely highlighted my own privilege. Being here has highlighted the effects of years of colonialism and imperialism on those colonized. I’ve had students question if they could learn something because, according to them, difficult subjects are for white people. I’ve heard adults questioning whether or not young people from rural Swazi communities were capable of learning certain things.

I knew very little about international development prior to Peace Corps. Admittedly, I still don’t know much. What I can say, after my limited experience, is that I believe that part of the work must be dismantling generations of imperialist thought. For example, I’ve had interactions that started in siSwati. Upon hearing me struggle with speaking siSwati, my conversation partner(s) may start speaking English. The imperialist thought being that “I would rather struggle speaking your language in my country for your comfort.” I noticed several of my students doing this. For this reason, I tried to learn siSwati as best I could. To me, it was the least that I could do to signal that the people and culture here matter.

I have been honored to serve in eSwatini for the past 26 months. I would like to thank all of those who have contributed to this journey. Thank you for the phone calls, letters, postcards, messages, conversations, good vibes, positive energy, and everything else. The journey was made a bit easier because of you.

To my host families. Thank you for welcoming me into your homes and families. For accepting and loving me as your son, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, uncle, nephew and friend. For teaching me about Swazi culture and language. For forcing me to actually speak siSwati.

To my students. Thank you for trusting me. For keeping me on my toes and teaching me the nuances of siSwati. For laughing with me, and at me. For the intentional (and unintentional) laughs at your expense. You are brilliant. Keep being brilliant, and pushing yourselves to be better. I look forward to you doing amazing things in the future for emaswati and the world. Always remember that there is a guy somewhere in the world who believes in you and your greatness.

To my teaching colleagues. Thank you for allowing me to join you on the quest to educate and empower the leaders of eSwatini’s tomorrow. For indulging me in trying out some new, weird (and, at times, uncomfortable) things. For challenging and checking me to ensure that there was substance behind the radical ideas, instead of tightly compressed hot air.

To the people of Lushikishini, Mankayane. Thank you working, laughing, and fellowshiping with me. For the memories. For welcoming me as one of your own. For the time spent on a porch, in a field, or under a tree. For teaching me to slow down and enjoy the day. I once heard that there is a big difference between being still and doing nothing. Thank you for showing me how to appreciate being still.

To emaswati all around the kingdom. Thank you for welcoming me with open arms and warm smiles. For inviting me into your homes, places of worship, and your lives. For teaching me your language and culture. For adopting me into your culture.

To the Peace Corps eSwatini staff. Thank you for supporting me and all of #G14Strong. For the leeway to explore. For listening. For keeping me healthy. For assisting me with navigating the intricacies of the Swazi life, language and culture. For guidance when direction wasn’t apparent.

To my fellow Peace Corps eSwatini volunteers. Thank you for serving with me. For teaching and inspiring me. For bringing your best self. For being supportive in times of struggle. For being celebratory when the need arose. For, at times, being a cadre of cheerleaders reminding me (and all of us) that small victories, like all victories, deserve to be celebrated.

To my family and friends at home. Thank you for keeping in touch. For the phone calls, emails, Whatsapp massages, etc that seemed to lessen the distance. For everything that you’ve done to support me during my service.

To the prospective PCVs. Thank you for reaching out. For reminding me that representation matters. For freely asking questions. For sharing your fears, concerns, and discomforts.

To the followers and readers of whatisKirbydoing on this blog and on Instagram. Thank you for taking this ride with me. For sharing the project with your friends and family. For keeping me engaged. For asking questions. For your likes, comments, and follows.

I know that some are wondering what’s next. I’ll be heading to India soon. The loose plan is to continue eastward until I end up back in DC. During the trek eastward, I’ll be job searching. So if you or someone you know is hiring, please let me know. I’m primarily interested in analyst, IT, or technical writing positions in the public sector although I’m open to other things.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – That Time We Took a Field Trip

In January 2018, I was excited. The new school year was on the horizon. I was coming into a stride in my service. I was ready to introduce Wikipedia Offline to our students at the high school. As I was sharing this excitement with other PCVs and our Country Director, I mentioned the idea of a writing contest. I was trying to figure out how to gather prizes for the contest. In my mind, we would teach the students how to research and use Wikipedia Offline before they demonstrated mastery by writing brief research reports. Someone suggested a field trip. “Why not write a small grant to take the winning students to the (U.S.) embassy’s resource center and lunch?”, our director asked. Commence grant writing.

While the timeline was delayed, the essence of the project was able to shine through. In May, we announced the contest. All students were invited to use the Wikipedia Offline to write a one page report concerning the topic, “Strong Women”. Our students submitted reports about strong women that have inspired them and the world including Winnie Mandela, Jane Austen, and Oprah Winfrey.

Last month, we took that field trip to the U.S. Embassy in Ezulwini. The students were excited as it was their first time visiting the embassy. The head librarian prepared a presentation discussing what the resource center offers. He even spoke to the students about the importance of self-directed and self-motivated learning. Some students have expressed interest in getting membership cards and spending portions of the school breaks in the embassy’s resource center. The students being inspired has inspired me. I’ve very excited to see what the future holds for students who understand that they can do and become anything. The above picture was taken by embassy staff as I discussed some of the features of the resource center with my students.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Wikipedia

In late 2017, I was at home browsing Reddit as I had done many evenings prior. I’m not sure what I had searched or what sequence of clicking had landed me on this page. At first glance, I thought it was one of the internet’s jokes. One thread read “…Wikipedia offline…”. My interest piqued, I decided to take a look.

The Wikimedia Foundation decided years ago that they would make the entire Wikipedia database available to the public. In other words, someone could now download the entirety of Wikipedia’s content and have access to it without internet connectivity. Various programmers and organizations developed offline browsers that could be used with the database files. One such organization is Kiwix. The Kiwix platform uses .zim files and features many products from the Wikimedia Foundation including WikiVoyage, Wikitionary, and Wikiversity.

With knowledge of this possibility, I immediately thought about conversations at the school during the past year. Our students were trying to keep up in the information age without reliable access to information. We had a computer lab, but no internet connectivity. I spoke to my head teacher and counterpart about the possibility of equipping the computer lab with offline Wikipedia. They agreed, but wanted to see something in action. I decided that I would put together a proof of concept presentation. I downloaded Kiwix for Windows and the Simple English .zim file. When I showed my colleagues how the program worked, they began to share my excitement. My head teacher requested that we move forward with the larger Wikipedia files. I spent half of November and all of December downloading Wikipedia for Schools, Wikipedia (in English) without pictures or videos, and other wikis.

Now, the 2018 academic year is under way. The computers in our lab are now equipped with the offline Wikipedia resources, and I am teaching students and colleagues how to use the software. Many of my colleagues and students are very excited. The software is being used by teachers to brush up on some subjects. Students are using the software to better understand the topics covered in class and to prepare for their external exams in term three. Throughout this term, students have stayed after school to study and print Wikipedia articles to use at home.

Last week, I was invited to another volunteer’s school to present on the Wikipedia resources to their students and staff. Apparently, their students really enjoyed the presentation. On the day following the presentation, they convinced their teacher to take them to the computer lab. Once there, they debated advantages and disadvantages of social media use. One of the teachers at their school also took her students to the computer lab to better understand iodine and its properties.

I’m beyond excited to see this project taking shape. In my vision for Swaziland, all schools would be using Wikipedia offline if they don’t have internet access. I’m also excited about chipping away at the digital divide. The picture above (taken by one of my students) is of me teaching my Form 4 students about the various wikis.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

2017 – A Photo Reflection

I thought about trying to select twelve pictures to represent this year, but it isn’t happening. Also, the months tend to run together after a while. I’ve tried to select things that represent the journey this year. I’ve also tried to select photos that haven’t been previously shared here. If you see repeats, it’s because my mind is forgetful and my eyes liked the photo very much. 

Thank you for sharing in this experience with me. I don’t take it lightly that you take time to journey with me. I look forward to continuing to share my life in Peace Corps Swaziland in 2018.

This year began with me deciding that if I was going to teach people how to make permagardens, I need to know how to do one. 
I made it to my 27th country. Ethiopia! Ate delicious food. Did other stuff. Ate more delicious food.
All work and no play isn’t for me. Work hard, play hard, see Chakalaka perform at House on Fire.
The universe decided I should have a penpal. I’m thankful for the art, kind words, and visiting a mailbox that’s not empty.
Teaching a full academic year has brought out many feelings and emotions. These students (and the rest of them not pictured) make it worth everything!
I was fortunate to be a part of the media pool for the Umhlanga festivities this year. I’ve also been able to practice the craft of photography. This may be the picture I’m proudest of this year.
AfrikaBurn 2017. Yeah.
My mother always taught us that if you can help someone, you should. Even if it’s in the middle of a bike ride. Photo credit: Nozie N.
There’s a Latin dance community that’s full of amazing people who remind me to just dance.
I don’t know what this is. But the little creature decided to hang out during hammock time one day.
Shoutout to Angelo and this involtini!
It’s cool to witness progress. This year, the first monolingual siSwati dictionary was published. It’s a big deal!
My counterpart is amazing. Now she can be amazing faster with this Ethiopian coffee.
At Thanksgiving, we gather at our country director’s home for lunch. I’m forever thankful for that!
My students have a sense of humor. Smile.
Our dog gave birth again. Puppies need a lot of rest.
There is no Thanksgiving in Swaziland. But there is Black Friday. And Black Friday sales.
Sunsets. They happen everyday, yet they’re still pretty awesome.

Be kind to yourself. 
Be kind to others. 
Onward. 

Monday in a Picture – Yebo Thishela

I teach. My school and community have been very welcoming and receptive to my teaching. My students ask questions and engage in discussions. While some classes have lessons prescribed and guided by the Ministry of Education, I’ve been given much freedom to adjust to meet the needs of the students. 

Lessons have included drugs, love, and consent among other things. The phrase, yebo thishela (pronounced yay-bow tee-shay-la), is one that I hear often. It’s direct translation is “yes teacher”. This picture was taken during a lesson with Form 1 students. 

This week, my students will start taking their internal exams on various academic subjects to showcase what they’ve learned so far in the school year.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – ​Grow Your Own Food: The Harvest 

Last week, the farm-to-table experience took on new meaning. I was watering my garden when I noticed that some of the crops were ready to harvest. Some crops, namely the cauliflower, had been sacrificed to garden pests. However, there were eggplants and okra that were ripe and ready. I should mention that I had completely forgotten that I even planted eggplant. I’m thankful that the eggplant didn’t forget it had been planted (like my tomatoes did). 

I harvested three beautiful eggplants and some okra. Now, I was faced with a new challenge. What do I do with this produce? I had never cooked fresh okra. I had never cooked (or eaten) eggplant, in any state. Thankfully, there were friends and Google to help me make culinary sense of the harvest. 

I decided to make an eggplant and okra stir-fry. It was delicious! It was hard to believe that I was eating a meal that had been grown by my own hands. In reality, it’s difficult for me to take full credit for the meal. While I planted the crops and watered them (when I remembered), the Earth did most of the work. The garden was much kinder to me than I was to it. For that, I’m thankful. 

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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​Monday in a Picture – Grow Your Own Food: the Garden

Last week, I finished my garden. I used the techniques that we learned in a training session last month. Read about that training here. Building this garden was a great way to test my own knowledge and skill before leading trainings in my community. I’m still planning the community demonstration gardens with community leadership.

Double digging to depths of 30+ centimeters is hard, tedious work. The Swazi sun made the task even more unappealing. I hyped myself up by watching Ron Finley’s TED talk about guerrilla gardening. While the entire video is extremely motivational and inspiring, one quote stuck out to me.

“Growing your own food is like printing your own money.” – Ron Finley

I like money. I like food. Challenge accepted! It took four days to complete. I’m happy to announce that it’s done. Some of my neighbors came over to learn and help. It felt great to actually understand permagardening well enough to explain it to others. 

I’m sure that I didn’t do everything perfectly. There were measurements that I forgot to take. My idea (and practice) of companion planting is definitely not what we learned. I didn’t add ash or charcoal to the soil because we didn’t have any available. 

For those who may be wondering what I am hoping to grow, I planted seedlings of lettuce, red cabbage, Chinese cabbage, butternut squash, onions, okra, basil, something called rocket (which the sales associate told me is like spinach), broccoli, cauliflower, and eggplant. I planted seeds of chamomile, flowers, tomatoes, and spinach. Now, I’m just hoping that the seeds and seedlings turn into food.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S. – This is what the space looked like before it became a garden. 

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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?”