Monday in a Picture – Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

One of the hottest tickets in town is to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s the newest of the institution’s museums, having opened its doors in 2016. While I heavily anticipated the opening, I started for service a few months before the grand opening. The internet and friends shared some of the hype and hoopla with the museum first opening. The long lines. The massive visitation numbers. The quality of the museum itself. The forethought put into its curation. I knew that I had to go. I thought that I’d just be able to walk up and get in. Passes are still needed to get in, as the museum is still drawing very high numbers of visitors.

One of the ways to get tickets is from the daily release of same day, timed passes (which are released around 0630 EST). The passes are free, and they are usually claimed within ten to fifteen minutes of release. I woke up early and tried to get passes for several days, but the internet decided it wasn’t my time. One day last week, I woke up a bit later and decided to check the website for passes. Lo and behold, there were some available. I successfully claimed a pass, got dressed, and had breakfast before excitedly biking down to the museum.

It was suggested that I start on the lowest level and work my way up. This allows for following the journey chronologically. The exhibit begins with history of African kingdoms and royalty, and includes snippets of everyday life for many West Africans whose descendants would be enslaved. Along the walls and in the background of the exhibit were the details of several slave ships that crossed the Atlantic. The museum does an amazing job of telling the story of the African journey to America including a highlight of a vessel carrying captured people that shipwrecked off the coast of South Africa. Walking through the levels allows one to walk through history with several artifacts on display. As I approached the end of the chronological history, I shed a few tears. There was something special about seeing parts of my life and childhood highlighted in a museum. Something special about hearing Tupac as the musical backdrop to the 1990s display.

For lunch, there is the Sweet Home Cafe. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s very tasty. I had the shrimp and grits, and it was delicious. Going up to the second floor, there was an exhibit on hip hop culture and an interactive experience with call and response stepping. I spent most of the day (> 5 hours) at the museum and didn’t get to see it all. I definitely plan to return once I get more passes. The above photos were taken during my day at the museum.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – Dutch Pancake Party

I know. I know. You may have seen the title and thought, “I didn’t know that Kirby was going to the Netherlands”. I didn’t. I arrived in Philippines after a wonderful time in Vietnam. As I do when I get to most new cities, I checked out what was going on in the local Couchsurfing community. Manila was no exception. Some locals and travelers were getting together to walk around and explore Manila a day after I arrived. Perfect!

A group of about ten folks showed up in the park for the day’s activities. What I didn’t know was that the day’s activities would conclude in a Dutch Pancake Party at a local hostel. Robin, a self-described Dutch nomad, started throwing these parties some years ago. It all started with a conversation about food. Someone who was hosting Robin asked him to make some Dutch food. He admitted that he didn’t know how to cook, and made the only thing he knew: a Dutch pancake. Following the excitement of the first, he organized another, and then another. Now, Robin has hosted more than 100 of these events in more than 80 cities.

It was really cool to see all of the people coming together to share in pancakes. There was a very social atmosphere that extended beyond Couchsurfing. Good times were had as many pancakes were devoured. The above picture was taken before the event started as we were making pancake batter.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Coming to America

Photo credit: U.S. embassy (Swaziland)

One of the things that I hear often around my community is a desire to go to the United States. Some people want to study in the U.S. Some want to travel and see the sights. 

In December, our country director sent all current Swaziland PCVs an email announcing recruitment for the Pan Africa Youth Leadership Program (PAYLP). The exchange program is sponsored and funded by the U.S. State Department, and coordinated locally through the American embassy and other partners. 

The school term had already finished, so I sent the message to a few teachers at my community high school to see if they wanted to nominate anyone. A teaching colleague wanted to nominate her son. He completed the application and motivation statements, and I submitted his application. 

In early February, we received notice that my teaching colleague’s son was one of five Swazi students accepted into the program and would be going to America in April. This started a busy month of obtaining passports and other documents. Then, there was the visa application process (which reminded me of the extreme privilege that comes simply with being born in America). Finally, there was the pre-departure orientation at the U.S. embassy in Swaziland. The students were able to meet the rest of the cohort, attend visa interviews, and allay some fears and worries about the trip. 

There was a video conference with representatives from the State Department, other partners, and participants from all PAYLP countries (10 nations in total, including Swaziland). The students were all very excited. This month, their collective excitement becomes reality when they arrive in the United States. They will meet with various American officials, study at local universities, and have homestay experiences with American families. The only thing left to do is get on the plane. 

In the picture above, the Public Affairs Officer (middle) poses with the students and their adult mentor.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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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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​Monday in a Picture – The Homestead 

In Swaziland, we live with a host family in a rural community for the duration of our service. These communities tend to be very family oriented. Families live together on a plot of land called a homestead. Homesteads vary greatly in size, structures, and composition. There are some common elements with all homesteads around the country. 

I have yet to see a homestead that doesn’t have a farming space to grow crops, typically maize. Most homesteads have multiple buildings on them. On my homestead (pictured above), there’s the main house, my house, a tool house, a chicken house, a guest room, and a pit latrine. Many homesteads also have a kraal (pronounced crawl), which is where the family’s cows live. Some homesteads with many extended family members may have one house for school age female children, and another house for school age male children. Some homesteads have a kitchen house, where food is cooked in a large three legged pot over an open fire. 

There is, of course, a process to acquiring land to build your homestead. It starts with going to the inner council at the umphakatsi (pronounced om-pa-got-see) to ask for land to build your home. The umphakatsi is the local governance structure of a chiefdom. In many rural communities and chiefdoms, only a married man can ask the inner council for land to build a home. It’s expected that you give a number of cows to the umphakatsi for the land you are given. Once the land for your homestead is acquired, you can start building whatever structures you’ll need. I’ve noticed that building homes tends to be a local community and family effort. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Reflections from Madagascar

Recently, I vacationed in Madagascar to celebrate the New Year. Here are five quick reflections from Madagascar

  1. ​Yes, I went all the way to Madagascar and managed not to see one lemur. I didn’t make it to any of the national parks. I guess I have a reason to return, in addition to the beach and tasty stuff. A day on the beach is never wasted. 
  2. Speaking French could be  an (unofficial) prerequisite of visiting the island nation. There are two languages: French and Malagasy. English isn’t spoken with any regularity.  Luckily, a few people who did speak English were there to help me when I needed it. I’m extremely grateful to these language champions! (Side note: After speaking and hearing so much siSwati for the past six and a half months, I found myself greeting and responding in siSwati. Yebo babe would be uttered only to realize that I meant to say Bonjour Monsieur.)
  3. Madagascar is big. It’s the fourth largest island in the world. Navigating the island takes considerable time. I traveled on a taxi-brousse (intercity public transport) from Antananarivo to Tamatave. The journey of about 320 kilometers lasted 8 hours on relatively good roads. 
  4. The food was quite delightful. I enjoyed delicious seafood from traditional restaurants and traditional Malagasy hotelys. I sat in an ice cream parlour and had some peach ice cream that made my taste buds say “thank you”. I was fortunate to try several natural juices. I’m happy to report that they were all refreshing and delicious. There was even good Mexican food at a hostel in the capital. 
  5. During my trip, I was fortunate to meet some PCVs currently serving in Madagascar. They were all wonderful folks. We shared laughs, played games, and ate good food together. I learned that while the Peace Corps experience has some similarities wherever you go, it is just as unique the people who serve. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

​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.

Photo Post: August 2016 (NSFW)

Warning: this post does contain one picture with nudity (bare breasts)

The cow chilling with the calf. Life in Nkamandzi is pretty good. 

Some extended family came over for the weekend. My bobhuti made swings for everyone to play on. 

After dinner, I wanted to capture the moment and the moon. Mostly, the moon. 

For host family appreciation day, some trainees donned traditional Swazi dress (lihiya and sidvasha). 

I haven’t encountered many training managers. But after being under the tutelage of Yemi, I can confidently say that she’s the best. 

My sikhoni, mzala (cousin), and me on host family appreciation day. Photo credit: Timmya D. 

Bhuti wami, make wami na mine. (My brother, my mother, and me). Host family appreciation day. Photo credit: Timmya D. 

One of the biggest traditions in the world, Umhlanga, celebrates the purity and chastity of young maidens. Also, called the Reed Dance, about 98000 young ladies and girls. 

When his majesty, King Mswati III arrives, he arrives! He attended Umhlanga also with dignitaries from Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania and, Lesotho to name a few. 

Extended family comes to town. Of course, pictures are in order. 

Before the host family appreciation day festivities, Nate gets his lihiya (traditional Swazi top dress) on properly with the assistance of a host make. 

As we prepared to leave Nkamandzi, another volunteer’s family had some of us over for dinner. Here, Nathalie (left) cooks rice on the open fire with Akirah’s make. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward.