Monday in a Picture – Mother Bear

There are numerous organizations that offer aid to people around Swaziland. Some of these organizations are based here in the kingdom. Some organizations offer financial support while others inkind support and supplies. 

One such organization is The Mother Bear Project. Based in Minnesota, the organization sends hand knit (or crocheted) bears to young children in developing nations affected by HIV. Volunteer knitters are asked to either hand knit or crochet a bear from a given pattern. The knitted bears are a labor of love project seeks to comfort affected children. 

Last week, I completed a distribution of Mother Bears at one of the primary schools in my community. The students were very excited with big smiles as they received the bears. The above picture is a selfie of me with some of the children after receiving the bears. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – To Be Wed

A few weeks ago, I was finally able to attend a traditional wedding in Swaziland. This had been on my to-do list, but I knew of no upcoming ceremonies. Another PCV told me that there was a traditional wedding happening soon in her community, and invited me to join the festivities. I accepted. 

Typically, weddings in Swaziland are either traditional weddings (like this one) or white weddings (which are western style weddings done in a church). This traditional Swazi wedding began on Friday evening. The bride’s family gathered and ate at one homestead while the groom’s family gathered and ate at another. I was told that Friday is typically the day that the groom’s family uses to travel to the bride’s family homestead. After feasting, the groom’s family arrived at the bride’s family homestead just after midnight. The wife-to-be danced and sang with other married women. This continued until around 0100. 

The next day, guests started to arrive at the bride’s family homestead in the early afternoon. There was food, traditional home brew beer, and fellowship. By mid afternoon, guests were finding seats under the event tent as the bride and her party began marching in. There were several songs sung accompanied by traditional dances. At times, the bride danced with her entire party. At times, she danced alone. 

After some time, the groom and his party marched in. His party wasn’t as large, and they didn’t do as many traditional dances. At one point, the bride is dancing alone as everyone watches. This was the point in the ceremony where people could pin money onto the bride’s head covering. The singing and dancing continued. At another point, the groom joined the bride for a small, traditional dance. After the bride and groom had finished dancing, others did traditional dances as the bride and groom watched separately. The actual wedding ceremony took about ninety minutes to complete. There were still other things to be done, but the main event was over. 

Swazi marriages represent the beginning and cultivation of a long term relationship between two families. The families (and friends) are there to support this relationship and to enjoy the ceremony was filled with food, fellowship, and merriment. In the picture above, the wedding couple is joined by a member of the groom’s party during a traditional dance. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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​Monday in a Picture – Christmas in June 

In Peace Corps Swaziland, there’s an annual tradition. It’s a goodbye party known as Christmas in June. The group of PCVs scheduled to leave soon is celebrated by the rest of us with food and Christmas merriment. This past weekend, we gathered for Christmas in June. 

The above picture is of some of the PCVs gathered around to enjoy the festivities. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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#GloPoWriMo 2/30: About Her

​She asks me 

to note her best features. 

I start thinking

about the way her hips sway

as the sun sets. 

About how her face

is the prototype of perfect. 

She is

an example of excellence. 

But, 

none of that is important. 

I will not

call her pretty. 

She

is so much more. 

She

is my cheerleader

and coach, 

Hope and love

personified,

and given a voice. 

She is reason

and balance. 

Strength and conditioning

for challenges 

that may come. 

She taught me 

not to run. 

To sit, 

and to listen. 

But not obey 

my fears.

Her best feature

is not being able

to describe how amazing

she is. 

She just

is. 

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Getting naked in Cape Town (SFW)

It was Sunday evening. I had returned to Swaziland to attend training. I was on cloud nine after having the most amazing weekend in Cape Town. I had started the weekend with two goals. Eat great food and ride bikes while naked. Cape Town is known for some exquisite cuisine. The World Naked Bike Ride happened to be on the same weekend. Both of my goals were exceedingly accomplished! I ate amazing Thai food and sushi. Other PCVs at the training commented on how refreshed I looked as I shared highlights of the weekend. I smiled. I was extremely rejuvenated. 

One PCV friend asked when I would be writing about this experience on my blog. I responded that I wouldn’t be writing about the naked bike ride weekend. I had reasoned that the weekend was not related to my Peace Corps service, and that this blog was singularly about my service. I had reasoned that I wanted to be a “good” volunteer, and not attract bad publicity or attention to the Peace Corps. 

The World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is a clothing optional bike ride that takes place in more than 70 cities around the world. People from all walks of life join in to celebrate people powered transportation. Most ride bikes. Some ride longboards. Some participate in roller skates. Others choose to run. 

The reasons that people choose to participate, like the participants themselves, are diverse. Some people want to bring attention to our global dependence on non-renewable energy. Others want to highlight the vulnerability of cyclists and remind motorists to share the road. There are naturists, and naturism activists, who use the ride to promote a clothes-free lifestyle and remind the world that nakedness does not equal sex or lewd behavior. 

My first WNBR was 2012 in Philadelphia. A big reason for my participation, at the time, was to be part of an exciting counter-culture. It was thrilling to be around 2500 people in various states of undress. 

To date, I have done the WNBR in six cities on three continents. While it’s still exciting to be naked and ride bikes through the city, I have added to the reasons that I ride. Having struggled with body image issues at various points in my life, I try to fully embrace body positivity, both in practice and thinking. People with all kinds of body types participate in the ride, and all are welcomed and embraced by fellow ride participants and most onlookers. Cape Town was no different. As we rode through the city, people lined the streets to cheer for us. The smiles were plenty. The weather was perfect. I was even gifted some delicious pizza after the 7.5 km ride. I even posed for pictures, and completed some interviews (one of which ended up on Japanese news). Body shaming has been normalized and is commonplace in far too many places. Simply stated, I ride because I refuse to embrace a culture of shame. 

After much internal debate on whether or not I should write about my experience at the Cape Town WNBR, I decided that it was necessary. Yes, this is a blog about my Peace Corps experience. However, that experience isn’t limited to teaching classes, building gardens, and writing grants. Also, I believe in the importance of fully representing the great expanse known as the US of A. Some day, someone will read this while wondering if there is space in Peace Corps for them with all of their unique intricacies. Let this post be a resounding yes! 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Sweet Dreams – Fanboy

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 a large group of people. They may have have been classmates. They may have been teammates. They may have been my Peace Corps Swaziland cohort. We were in a restaurant waiting to go somewhere or do something. There were maybe 50 of us. The restaurant was a cross between a McDonald’s and a Starbucks.

Anyway, I get up to go to the counter to order something. In my periphery, I notice a man sitting down. To my left. In the distance. Holy shit! It’s Dak Prescott. I get out of line to nervously and eagerly approach. I try to put a sentence together, but manage to say something unintelligible. He’s cool. He shakes my hand. No big deal. He smiles and gets back to whatever he was doing. I don’t even go back to the counter. I go back to my group to excitedly tell them that Dak is there. They don’t seem to care as much as I do. I tell them that they don’t understand, and that this is like meeting the president of the United States. They blow me off. 

Fast forward. We’re in the same place. But they now offer banking services. Dak is getting a new bank account. On his way out, he jokingly offers me his signature. On the back of his card. I’m still so giddy and excited. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – New Year, New Haiku (times two)

Happy New Year! Bonne
année
from Madagascar. 
Love meaningfully. 

My mother almost
named me “George Quincy”. She knew
she’d just birthed GQ. 

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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P.S. – Bonne année means “Happy New Year” in French. 

​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.