Monday in a Picture – PCIT

During our service in Peace Corps Swaziland, PCVs are encouraged to serve on one of the national committees. The various committees serve different purposes. For example, there is a committee that’s responsible for the editing and publishing of our monthly newsletter, while another committee is tasked with advocating on behalf of volunteers with senior staff. After speaking with some volunteers from previous groups, I decided that I wanted to serve on a committee known as Peace Corps Information Technology, or PCIT. 

PCIT is a three member committee tasked with IT support (for PCVs), social media content creation, and PCV project documentation. While I’m not the most tech savvy person I know, my Google-fu is decent enough to find whatever information I need. This helps when fellow PCVs ask tech related questions. My favorite aspect of working on the committee is PCV project documentation. Whenever a PCV hosts trainings, conferences, or other events, a member of PCIT attends to take photos and/or videos. This media is used in Peace Corps Swaziland social media ventures, multimedia, and other projects. 

Being a PCIT committee member has afforded me the opportunity to see many nooks and crannies of Swaziland with a fancy camera in tow. I’ve been fortunate to capture various aspects of life in Swaziland while honing my photog skills. Maybe Nat Geo will (finally) call me one day to request my services. 

The above picture features myself with the other PCIT members as we were discussing PCIT with other PCVs. This photo was taken by Elise A. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – The Tee Shirts of (Almost) Champions 

If you hang out on the internet long enough, you’re probably going to see memes mentioning championship tee shirts of American sports teams who lost the championship. The memes typically exclaim excitement about the second place team’s locker room shirts arriving in Africa. 

I wasn’t sure if the memes were based in truth or not. However, while out and about in Swaziland, I started seeing various championship tee shirts. The meme was confirmed. I’m not sure about the details of how the shirts reach their final destination. I’ve been told that the shirts are frequently donated to international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who may use the shirts as incentives in various programming. While fans of the second place team experience heartbreak and wonder what if, someone a world away gets a shirt. 

The above picture was taken last week in mid-sized town in central Swaziland. The 2015 Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t win. But this lady (who graciously agreed to be photographed) did, and has the shirt to prove it. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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.

​My favorite things – the packing list

While preparing for Peace Corps service can be hectic among other more colorful adjectives, it’s an exercise in restraint. It was tempting to pack up my entire apartment in Washington, DC and bring all of that stuff with me to Swaziland. I’m very thankful that I didn’t. After searching other volunteer blogs and Reddit to decide what to bring, I narrowed my list down. This is my contribution to that pool of knowledge. There are some things that I’m very happy I packed (outside of the typical – clothes, phone, computer, etc), as they have proved most useful. 

  • Headlamp – I brought two. I have electricity on my homestead. I had electricity at my training site during my first three months in country. However, a headlamp is useful, especially on those 2AM runs to the latrine or when the power goes out while cooking dinner. 
  • Hydroflask – This could be considered a water bottle, but it’s so much more. To be able to have an ice cold (or steaming hot) beverage after working all day is pure magic. 
  • Duct tape – It’s multipurposed, and magical. 
  • Rechargeable batteries – These save me money and trips into town. I use them for my headlamps, camera, and other lights. 
  • Power bank – There are instances when the electricity goes out, due to heavy rains. There are also times when I’m not at home, and my phone, watch, or some other gadget is about to run out of battery. I can at least ensure that I have enough battery power to last until the next time I can plug in.  
  • Bluetooth headphones/speaker – I really enjoy music and podcasts. While walking. While running. While on a long bus ride. The speaker is especially great for music while cooking/washing doing laundry. The headphones are great for being able to hear the movie I’m watching over the pounding rain on my tin roof. 
  • Comfort items – This is going to mean something different to everyone. For me, it included pictures from my apartment in DC and various gadgets. I’ll throw snacks into this category, as well. Go overboard with your favorite snacks. Add in your second and third favorite snacks as well. If you have to choose between a few more clothing items and snacks, go for the snacks. 
  • External hard drive – We were told that there would be plenty of time to share media. This was correct. We were also warned that we would have a substantial amount of down time. This was also correct. Load up your favorite movies, music, tv shows, podcasts, porn, documentaries, etc. Having an external hard drive is also helpful when it comes to storing backups of your system. Your future self will thank you! 
  • Big, blue IKEA bags – I didn’t pack this. A friend was kind enough to send some to me. These things are an invaluable resource when navigating public transit after grocery shopping for two to three weeks. And it’s good for the Earth.
  • Pillow – This could go under comfort items, but it deserves its own bullet. While there can be too many pillows, that threshold is pretty high. I opted for a firm king size pillow. It’s delightful to fall asleep on it every night. 

Feel free to add your own favorite things in comments. Also, if any future volunteers have questions, feel free to ask them here. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Stage Fright

​One of the things that has been required of us, as Peace Corps volunteers in Swaziland, is ongoing language learning. This makes perfect sense to me. As we learn more about Swazi culture and start to understand it better, language is key. 

I have found an amazing language tutor who is patient enough to answer my “but why is like this instead of like this” questions, and stern enough to correct me when I’m wrong (repeatedly). 

If I were to do an honest self-assessment, I’d say that my language skills have definitely improved since ending our pre-service training (albeit in miniscule increments). My language skills have improved dramatically since coming to Swaziland almost five months ago. At this point in my language learning, I’m able to semi-confidently hold a conversation with a preschooler. I’m proud of this. I want to be able to confidently have intense conversations with peers and boMkhulu (pronounced bo-mmm-koo-loo) or elder men/grandfathers in the community. I want to be able to understand jokes and be sarcastic in siSwati. I want to understand what folks are asking for when they come to my homestead. I would like to go a day without speaking English, but not be silent. My host make (pronounced mah-gay), or mom, recently told me that next year, no English will be spoken. SiSwati only. Of note: she told me when I first arrived that I must speak siSwati. “Sibusiso, you’re not in America anymore. We speak siSwati here.” 

I think I’ve identified what one of the bigger barriers is for me currently. Stage fright. My receptive language is definitely getting better. I can understand some of what’s said in small talk conversations on khombis (local mass transport vans). My expressive language is where my stage fright is the star of the show. I start to wonder if I actually heard what I thought I heard. Do I have the language to respond to that? Do I have enough vocabulary to keep the conversation going? Do I just want to use the fail safe phrase? Angiva (pronounced ah-knee-va), or I don’t understand. I guess the only way to overcome it is to keep practicing and understanding that failing doesn’t mean failure. After all, winning the World Series is impossible if you never step up to the plate and take a swing. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S. – Did you know that @whatisKirbydoing is an Instagram handle? Be sure to follow the fun. 

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. 

I’m going to Swaziland! – How I got here

Welcome to my blog, where I hope to share my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer over the next couple of years. I would like to start with my timeline.

  • Completed application. (April 13th, 2015)
  • Placed under consideration for Armenia, leaving in March 2016. (April 14th, 2015)
  • Changed availability date, due to my brother’s wedding being scheduled in April 2016. (April 22nd, 2015)
  • Withdrew application. (April 23rd, 2015)
  • Completed (second) application. (May 1st, 2015)
  • Placed under consideration for Swaziland, leaving in June 2016. (June 9th, 2015)
  • Interview request. (June 19th, 2015)
  • Interview. (July 7th, 2015)
  • Invitation to Swaziland. (September 1st, 2015)
  • Legal clearance packet sent, to receive legal clearance. (September 11th, 2015)
  • Legal clearance packet returned to Peace Corps office. (November 13th, 2015)
  • Comprehensive medical tasks assigned for me to complete, to receive medical clearance. (November 27th, 2015)
  • Uploaded last medical clearance task. (February 2nd, 2016)
  • Medically cleared, including dental clearance. (March 23rd, 2016)
  • Travel booked to Philadelphia, PA for staging event. (May 17th, 2016)

I am currently clearing out my home of the past six years and packing up. I’m super excited!

Onward.