Monday in a Picture – Bend and Pick

I love thrift stores. There’s some magical about spending copious amounts of time looking through any and everything. My mother said that I get this trait from my grandmother, who also loved thrifting. Shortly after arriving in eSwatini, I found Thelma who owned a small thrift store in Manzini, eSwatini’s biggest city. Thelma spruced up my wardrobe with a few items. Due to rising business costs, Thelma had to close her store.

Some PCVs in the prior groups told me about a wonderful swap meet known as Bend and Pick. Every Wednesday and Thursday (excluding some Swazi public holidays), vendors from eSwatini and the rest of southern Africa converge on the Manzini bus rank with their wares. Bend and Pick is the largest regular flea market, that I know of, in eSwatini. If it can be worn, you’ll probably find it there. I’ve found several gems there including my super useful fanny pack. The prices are reasonable, even on a PCV budget. I’ve found that prices tend to be better the deeper you go into the market. Unlike most places in eSwatini, you can negotiate at Bend and Pick. Like thrift stores, Bend and Pick is not for folks who are in a rush or impatient. I’ve also found that as a man of size, Bend and Pick tends to be better for finding clothes that fit me. The picture above is from Bend and Pick a few weeks ago.

Be kind to yourself.

Monday in a Picture – What’s in a Name?

Last week, His Majesty King Mswati III celebrated his 50th birthday with Swazis and others. The national celebration, called the 50/50 celebration, also commemorated 50 years of independence from British rule. Thousands of Swazis and guests gathered in Manzini for dancing, singing and merriment. While His Majesty’s speech touched on several topics, one of the biggest was his changing of the country’s name.

What was formerly the Kingdom of Swaziland is now the Kingdom of eSwatini. The king stated during this declaration that a big part of this decision was because of what they called themselves before British rule. Fifty years ago, British rule became a thing of the past. Last Thursday, the British name for the country became a thing of the past. I was with a small group of PCVs and friends in Mavuso stadium when the king made this declaration. There was an eruption of applause and cheering upon the declaration.

Some friends have asked me what I think about the name change. While I don’t have strong opinions, I think it’s a beautiful thing to be true to your identity and to reclaim any identity you may have lost. There’s beauty in the realization that you haven’t been true to yourself; for it’s a starting point of redemption. For that, I am happy.

The above picture was taken during the 50/50 celebration while His Majesty was giving his speech.

Be kind to yourself.

Monday in a Picture – Black Girls Global Exchange

Last week, the dreams and desires of a fellow PCV were actualized. In Swazi Spring 2017 (August-September), Dawnita saw a documentary about a girls step team from Baltimore, Maryland. She was moved by documentary, and shared that she wanted to do a documentary screening for the girls in her community.

She had conversations with folks from Baltimore, her hometown. They assembled a team and began working on bringing an idea to fruition. What if Black girls from this step team in Baltimore could connect with Black girls from South Africa and Swaziland? What if the image of their international contemporaries was formed by more than the media? Black Girls Global Exchange (BGGE) was born. More than fifteen high school girls and chaperones from Baltimore journeyed to South Africa and met up with high school girls from Manzini (Swaziland) and Soweto (South Africa). Together, they explored Soweto (and shared dance moves). The girls enjoyed a week of intercultural exchange as they tried new cuisine, shared stories, and completed service projects side by side. I was fortunate to be one of many photographers capturing the events.

On Thursday, girls from all over Swaziland joined the BGGE participants in central Swaziland for a screening of the documentary and a symposium. It was beautiful and emotional. It was surreal at times watching the girls truly and fully embrace the sentiment that we are much more alike than we are different. As the BGGE participants marched into the conference room for symposium, they were indistinguishable. Girls from Manzini and Baltimore wore matching outfits as they led chants of “B-G-G-E”. The energy was electrifying.

During the symposium, a light lunch was served. Two BGGE mentors from Baltimore, who are professional chefs, joined Swazi chefs in the kitchen to prepare a delightful experience highlighting American and Swazi foods. Shrimp and grits (an American favorite) was served alongside chicken feet, pap, and Swazi cornbread (all Swazi favorites).

While the symposium featured many powerful moments, I’d like to highlight two. During the panel discussion (pictured above), BGGE participants from Baltimore and Manzini discussed what they had learned from nearly a week of intentional cultural exchange. The girls shared how they connected on the challenges they face in their respective homes. Gender based violence and inequality is problem in Swaziland and America. HIV plagues both nations with so many infected and affected. At another point in the symposium, the participants from Manzini closed a presentation with a beautiful song. The lyrics hit me as tears fell. “Shine your light–Be the light–We, Black girls; we gotta stick together”. As the lyrics repeated, the stage began to fill with the BGGE participants from Baltimore and other girls. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen during my time in Swaziland. The Black Girls Global Exchange is the epitome of Black girl magic.

Be kind to yourself.

P.S. – Below are more pictures highlighting the Black Girls Global Exchange.

Correction (8 April 2018): There were 4 middle school girls from Baltimore, Maryland, in addition to the high school participants.

The lyrics from the moving song (during the symposium) were: “Show the light…give them life…we black girls…let’s work together.” It was written and arranged by BGGE Swazi Ambassador Nosfiso Magagula, 17 years old.

​Monday in a Picture – The Bus Rank 

The majority of transportation around Swaziland is done by minibus taxis, known as khombis. Imagine hundreds of fifteen passenger vans (typically Toyota Quantums or Mercedes Benz Sprinters) taking men, women, children, and chickens everywhere. The khombis travel through the cities and the rural communities. They travel on paved, tar roads, and on gravelly, dirt roads. Although the vans are  15 passenger vans, sometimes there are more than 15 passengers on board. The good news is that everyone gets to wherever they are going. The not so good news is that personal space doesn’t exist when riding in khombis (or buses) here. 

One of the features of Swazi transportation is the hub and spoke system. There are two major transportation hubs in Swaziland: Mbabane (the capital) and Manzini. These transportation hubs, known as bus ranks, are typically filled with khombis, buses, and young men yelling and/or whistling to advertise their khombi or bus, and where it’s going. For example, you might hear a loud whistle followed by Mankayane! Mankayane! Mankayane! If you don’t hear your destination being yelled, you can always stop to ask the bobhuti (pronounced bo-boo-tee), or young men, where you can find the khombi or bus that you need. One of the really helpful things about the bus rank is that khombis and buses tend to be in the same spot or area everyday.

While buses tend to have specified (though not posted) departure times, khombis tend to leave whenever they fill up with passengers. This could be why the bobhuti sometimes grab your bags while yelling questions like, “Uyaphi?” (pronounced oo-yah-pee), or where are you going? It makes great sense. A khombi sitting in the bus rank is not a khombi making money. 

You can also find all kinds of items for sale at the bus rank. There are clothing items, cosmetics, snack food, produce, drinks, and more. While buses are waiting to depart, various vendors will also come around to sell their wares. There are also various shops and stores that surround the bus rank. Because most urban businesses in Swaziland close in the early evening (between 5PM and 7PM), the bus rank has much less activity and traffic at this time. 

The picture above shows rows of khombis parked and waiting to fill up with passengers in the Manzini bus rank, which is the largest in the country. 

Be kind to yourself. 

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​Monday in a Picture – The Shirt Off His Back 

This past Saturday, I went to a basketball game in one of the major hubs of Swaziland, Manzini. Some ladies I know were playing in a women’s game, and I wanted to support. Though my team lost, the game was competitive and exciting. It was also good to be at a familiar sporting event. (While I vaguely understand soccer, I don’t follow it nearly as much.)

After the game, I was chatting with friends outside when I saw a guy wearing a tee shirt. Spoiler alert: it’s the shirt seen above. I approached him, and told him that I liked his shirt. He thanked me, and told me that it was an extra large. I thought nothing of him telling me the size until he started taking off the shirt. He handed it to me. I told him that he didn’t have to give me his shirt. He insisted. I thanked him repeatedly, and we embraced. He smiled, and told me that he wanted me to enjoy my time in Swaziland. 

I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt so much love. To feel that connection was so amazing. 

Be kind to yourself. 

Oh, the places you’ll go!

This post is written in two parts, and discusses the site placement process. The first post was written on the Wednesday before the site announcement ceremony, and talks about my feelings leading up to Saturday. The second part was written on Saturday, and talks about the site announcement ceremony and my reactions to my future home. Warning! This post is long.

Wednesday July 20th, 2016

Last week, we had our Language Proficiency Interview (LPI), which assesses our language and conversation abilities this far. We also completed other assessments that tested how well we are learning safety and security, and cultural sensitivities.

One of the meetings was designed to state my personal preferences for my permanent site. People can request anything, from the vaguely general to the uber specific. This includes things like the region of the country you would like to be placed in, whether or not you would like electricity, and what kind of features you would like at your site (e.g., family size, animals, fruit trees). Some of my preferences included a warmer region of the country, electricity, and someplace that I can bike. PC staff will meet this week to decide on placements for everyone. We will find out our placements on Saturday, at a site announcement ceremony. I currently feel like a standout college athlete prior to the draft. I’m just waiting for that announcement.

“With the first pick in the Peace Corps Swaziland permanent placement draft, this wonderful family with electricity in an excellent community for biking selects Kirby P. from the Nkamandzi village!”

I have stated my preferences to any staff who would listen, done well on the LPI, and prepared myself to go anywhere. The suspense is building. For now, we wait.

Saturday July 23rd, 2016

This morning, we got to find out where we will spend the next two years! Several members from group 13, or G13, (the group of PCVs who came to Swaziland in June 2015) were on hand to assist with the announcement. We sat in a semi-circle as G13 began their antics. There were large puzzle pieces on the floor in the middle of the semi-circle. These puzzle pieces, 35 in total, made a map of Swaziland. The theme was Dr. Seuss, and there was a lorax and a grinch along with several other characters. The ceremony started with nursery rhymes to get us ready. Then, with all of the anticipation of an NBA or NFL draft, the placements were announced one by one in nursery rhyme. I was extremely excited with a touch of nervousness. There was no particular order to announcing everyone. I knew it was my turn to be unveiled as the nursery rhyme started with:

“I want to hug him,
Like I hugged my Furby.
Stand on up, Mr. Kirby.”

At this point, I am standing with one other person who will be in my region. (Of note: Swaziland is divided into four regions. They are Hhohho, Manzini, Lubombo, and Shiselweni.) We know our respective regions, but nothing about our respective sites yet. There are 28 more announcements to go. One by one, trainees in G14 find out where they will spend the next two years. The number of people in my region grows until the last person has been announced. Then, we are instructed to go outside to find one of the aforementioned puzzle pieces that has our name on it. I excitedly run outside around the building to find someone holding my puzzle piece and yelling my name. I take the puzzle piece inside so that we can work to put the puzzle together. Little by little, we see where we are in relation to each other. Our new homes are represented by a dot on our puzzle piece. All of G14 stands on the map (at the same time). Some folks are really close. Others are kind of far. Then, the G13 folks present stand on the map to show where they live. The excitement is still running high. As some people are getting off of the map, I notice yellow folders being handed out. I track down the person with mine. As I open it, I find a map of Swaziland showing my site, a fact sheet about the community and host family, and the host family profile.

I am excited to announce that I will be living in the Manzini region close to the border of South Africa. I will have a small host family with only one child. The site has one dog and two cats, along with a jojo tank for water. I will have electricity in my hut. Speaking of my hut, I have been told that it is a pretty spacious roundavel. There is even a sewing group in the community that I can join. I scoured the information given for the bike friendliness of my community. I didn’t find it. So, I asked one of the PC staff who had been out to the site. I was told that the site and community are very conducive to biking. I was also told that I am not in a malarial zone of the country, and that I am the first volunteer to be placed in this community.

I’m extremely happy right now, even as I write this post hours after the announcements. I was given everything that I wanted and asked for. I will get to travel to my site some time in the coming week. The excitement continues.

Be kind to yourself.

PS – is there anything that you would like see on Let me know!