Monday in a Picture – Swazi Girls Believe

Last Wednesday, we celebrated International Day of the Girl Child. All around the world, girls live with varying degrees of inequality. Peace Corps volunteers try combat this inequality in various ways. One of the Peace Corps initiatives supporting girls’ empowerment is Girls Leading Our World (GLOW), which are community or school based clubs with curriculums on issues surrounding girls’ empowerment. Today, I’d like to highlight a fellow Swaziland PCV who took girls’ empowerment to new levels. 

Dawnita organized and hosted the inaugural Swazi Girls Believe conference to celebrate International Day of the Girl Child. More than 90 girls from a primary school in her community took part in the day’s activities. The activities included a reflection exercise on mind, body, and soul well-being, as well as panel discussions and other speakers. 

There was a photo booth and giveaways. The day ended with a hands-on workshop teaching the girls how to make reusable menstrual pads. 

The girls enjoyed themselves. Knowledge and wisdom was shared, and hopefully the girls feel more empowered because Swazi girls who believe are those who achieve. Congratulations Dawnita! The picture above was taken during the panel discussion. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Sweet Dreams – Surprise Me

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 living in some connected townhouses. Single story. There were several different blocks of townhouses on the compound. I’m not sure what everyone did, but we all worked for the same company. So I guess it was company housing. 

Some friends who didn’t work for the company came over to my house to celebrate. I think it was my birthday. We had a fairly large party at my house on the compound, but my house wasn’t big enough to sleep everyone who came. Apparently, this was an all weekend affair. Some of my colleagues in company housing were generous to offer their houses for my friends. 

The next day, I’m awake and walking around the housing compound in search of my friends. I find a few of the guys. We chill and talk. Later that morning, some of the girls find us. We continued chilling and talking. One of the girls says that she has a surprise for me. We get in her car and she drives around the city for a while. Eventually, we’re in a seemingly deserted part of the city. I vaguely recognize the place. We’re approaching either a US embassy or U.N. compound. There are several white cars parked around the grounds. My friend tells me that I’m going to like my surprise. I asked if it’s going to be better than my party. She said that it would be. 

Finally, we drive into a building. Think revolving door for cars where you check your car like you would check a coat. We get out of the car in the lobby. We get onto a very large, spacious freight elevator. I can tell that we are going down. We keep descending. How many underground floors does this building have? My friend tells me to close my eyes. I do, reluctantly. I don’t remember leaving the freight elevator. But, the elevator stopped moving and all of the scenery of the elevator changed. There was now a massive tv and I was sitting on some kind of couch. I asked my friend what was going on. She said that it was a surprise and that I’d just have to wait a few more moments. She turned on the tv and started playing a movie. I could tell by the music that it was in the Police Academy series. It was Police Academy 8. I was super happy and excited to watch it. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – VRF

Each Peace Corps post hosts one or more sectors. Each sector operates within a unique program framework, which outlines the work to be done by PCVs in that country. Twice a year, we (PCVs) have to submit a standardized report on the work that we have done, and are doing. That standardized report is known as the Volunteer Reporting Form (or the VRF). It’s the report that literally seeks to answer the query, what is Kirby doing?

There are general descriptors of activities or projects that the PCV has done (or is doing) along with specified indicators linking projects to targets within the framework. For example, co-facilitating a training on permagardens would be linked to health and nutrition indicators. This would target goals in the framework that deal with food security and access. The VRF also asks PCVs to report on cultural exchange activities of note. After the VRF is submitted to local supervisors, it eventually ends up in Peace Corps headquarters. From there, aggregate data can be generated about how Peace Corps is doing (locally and globally) on each specific target. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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This Ain’t Easy: Difficulties in Service

Peace Corps service is difficult. I often get asked if/what I miss about America. My answer is always food, and the variety of it. In fact, I have a list of places to eat when I return to DC. This question is often followed up by some variation of “isn’t it difficult being away from your family for so long?” Technology seems to shorten the distance. However, if I had to single out one thing, I’ve found the most difficult part of my service, this far, has been being “always on”. 

I’ve had jobs where I participated in on-call rotations. This is different. There’s a certain brain drain even when apparently doing nothing. One of the core expectations of Peace Corps is:

“Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance.”

That professional performance item doesn’t end when the work day does. In fact, the “work day” is never over. Off days are non-existent. Off days are work days. While it’s true that I’m not teaching 24 hours daily, there’s still work to be done. There’s still siSwati to be learned, improved, and perfected. There’s still Swazi English to be deciphered. Relationship building and maintenance is work. Active listening and mindful presence is work. Waking up and walking from my house to the latrine means that I have to be ready to interact. My actions (or lack thereof) are highly visible. All day, everyday, I am the face of America. I am the face of all Americans. I am the face of Black Americans. I am the face of American men. If I eat ice cream with a fork, Americans do that. If I’m loud, boisterous, and use lots of profanity, Americans do that. 

Months ago, I was speaking with a musician in Swaziland. Somehow, the conversation turned to drug use among musicians. The musician said something that would stick with me. When discussing musicians and heavy drug use, the musician stated that drugs were prevalent because it’s not natural for a person to be in a near constant state of performance entertainer mode. Day after day. Night after night. Show after show. The musician explained that they are expected to continually perform at the highest levels. Otherwise, they are replaced by someone who can perform at those high levels. In no way am I suggesting that PCVs do or should indulge in drug use. I am offering that anyone considering Peace Corps service might want to develop healthy (read: non destructive) coping mechanisms and vices.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Sweet Dreams – Shrimp and Cake

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). 

There was a seafood restaurant. They had shrimp. There was another seafood place that only had soft shell crab. But they had run out of soft shell crab. I ordered one, and they somehow managed to get it for me. I had to wait for the long bus ride home. 

A few days later, I found out that I would be moving to a house closer to the seafood places. I was excited. The house was similar to a college dorm suite with two people sharing a room on either side of an elaborate kitchen/dining room setup. I didn’t like my roommate because he walked around with a 25 liter jerry can that served as his personal urinal. We had multiple bathrooms in the house. 

Because I now lived closer to the seafood places, I would go there often. Maybe everyday. One day, I saw that they were supposed to have stuffed shrimp. Of course, they had run out by the time I got there. I had to order the regular shrimp. I went to another shop in the vicinity to order cake, but they didn’t have any red velvet cake left. I walked home slightly disappointed that I didn’t have stuffed shrimp and red velvet cake. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – All the Colours

This weekend, some fellow PCVs and I participated in the Star Point Rainbow Dash. This was a 5K (though Garmin recorded just over 3 kilometers) run/hike that supports the Sifundzani Primary School Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), as they support the school’s infrastructure. Hundreds of runners, walkers, and general fun lovers journeyed through Mbabane while being powdered with color. 

It was my first running event in Swaziland, and it definitely proved to be a perfect way to combine fun, fitness, and supporting the children. With Spring upon us in Southern Africa, it’s the season for running events. Last month, another group of Swaziland PCVs participated in a half marathon in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. Next month, Swaziland will host the King’s marathon (with half marathon and 10K options). I’ve been kicking around the idea of trying the 10K. We’ll see what the future holds. 

The top picture features Nicole, Akirah, and me after the run. The bottom picture is of participants after the run continuing the coloring. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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A Personal Touch

Recently, I was in the Peace Corps Swaziland office for a meeting with both local staff and staff from Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington. As myself and other PCVs were introducing ourselves, an HQ staffer mentioned that I looked familiar. I asked where she hung out in DC thinking that we might have run in the same circles. She said that we didn’t know each other from DC. That it was Peace Corps related. She asked if I had been to any of the regional trainings. I told her that I hadn’t. I asked if she possibly knew my twin brother, explaining that we often get mistaken for each other. She was certain that she hadn’t met him. Finally, it clicked. She said, “you have a blog, don’t you?” I proudly responded that I was the human behind whatisKirbydoing.com. We were both satisfied with that solution. 

Hours later as I was reflecting on that interaction, my exchange with the Peace Corps staffer morphed meaning. She felt that she knew me. My blog allowed her to feel like we had connected before. It was in this moment of reflection that I realized that this blog is serving its intended purpose. I wanted this blog project to allow readers to join me on my journey through Peace Corps. This interaction was confirmation of the fulfillment of that purpose. 

I am reminded of a similar interaction from many months ago. A friend from DC mentioned that she enjoyed the blog because she felt like she was here with me. I’m thankful and delighted that this blog has fostered that connection. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Peace Corps Press Corps 

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. 
Onward. 

Ever wonder what is Kirby doing? Follow the blog!

P.S. – This is one of the shots that I was able to get while the king was greeting international dignitaries.