So, what exactly do you do? – a day in the life of a Peace Corps Swaziland volunteer extraordinaire

This question gets asked by many people. Community members and other Swazis are interested. Friends and family in America want to know. Friends that I haven’t met yet are curious. Of course, potential Peace Corps volunteers want a glimpse into what is potentially ahead of them. 

For starters, I’m a Youth Development volunteer in Swaziland. Unlike some Peace Corps sectors, like Education, we don’t have a preset schedule. We also don’t have a specific job description. We are given the opportunity to make our own daily itinerary and work within our framework. In Swaziland, we aren’t assigned to work with a particular organization or person. We’re assigned to an entire rural community. 

Though the days vary, I would like to present what a typical day for myself is like. 

I wake up between 0530 and 0630 during the week, and sometimes on weekends. I boil a kettle of water (to shower) while I do other morning tasks. After showering, I make breakfast (typically oatmeal with cinnamon and brown sugar) and get dressed. 

I try to leave my house by 0700, if I’m going to walk to the high school. I can leave at 0710 if I am going to bike. The school is just under two kilometers from my homestead. At school, I teach life skills. The school administration has also given me some class periods to teach “youth development”. While there is a full grade-specific curriculum for the life skills classes from the Ministry of Education, the youth development time is up to me and my creativity. 

I have taught lessons on resiliency, confidence, and leadership from various curriculums floating around Peace Corps. I have lead the students on team building and trust exercises. We tried to play some improv games, but that wasn’t successful. We have played a life skills board game designed by some PCVs who came before my time. I have discussed debatable topics before having students take positions and debate in class. There are also times when the students have vast questions about America. Being the resident American, I get to answer these questions. Sometimes, these question and answer sessions will last for an entire period. 

When I’m not teaching (which is often), I hang out in the staff workroom. Sometimes, I’m chatting with other teachers and trying to pick up more siSwati, or discussing life and ideas. Most times, I’m reading a book on the kindle. I bring my lunch to school everyday. It’s almost always leftovers from whatever I made the previous evening. I should mention that there are many impromptu conversations with students, teachers, administration and other community members that happen regarding possible activities, projects, and grants. Some of it pans out. Some of it doesn’t. Impromptu conversation is partly responsible for me teaching a class.

School dismisses at 1535. After school, I ride or walk home. I change into some kind of lounge wear and sit on my porch or go for a late afternoon bike ride. I’ll typically try to find my host mom to greet her, especially if I didn’t see her in the morning. Sometimes, neighbors or friends will stop by to chat. Sometimes, I read a book until the sun sets. This is also when I do my chores, like watering and weeding my garden, sweeping my house and porch, cutting grass or washing dishes. 

Around 1800, I start the process of cooking dinner. I am often distracted by a television show or movie, so I usually end up eating around 1900. After eating dinner and finishing whatever I’m watching, it’s time to go to bed (which is typically between 2030 and 2100). 

There are other things sprinkled in throughout the day. For example, I might hang out on Instagram looking for bearded PCVs to feature on @BeardsOfPeaceCorps. Sometimes, I’m asked to co-teach a class that relates to my interests, like economics or technology. My students have taught me how to play various card games. I’ve also led permagardening trainings in the community. In the interest of transparency, there are some days that I do nothing and thoroughly enjoy it. 

It is both daunting and freeing to be able to do whatever you want (within reason). You want to introduce baseball or ultimate frisbee? Go for it. You want to trick children into analyzing English by studying and listening to the music of Drake and Jay Z? Why not! I’m fortunate to be hosted by a community open to trying new ideas. Thankfully, most days are incredibly freeing. 

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. 

​Umlungu myama – What They Call Me, Part Two

Last week, I started delving into what people call me and how I am addressed here in Swaziland. You can check out that post here

On more than a few occasions, people have questioned where I am from. When I respond that I am from Washington, DC, sometimes, I’m asked from which country (in Africa) my family and I originated. I’ve been told, by various folks in Swaziland, that I must be from Nigeria. I’ve also heard that I am Swazi. I’ve also been told that I from various other places. When I respond that I don’t know where our African origins lie, folks look closer to try to figure out where I am from. Some tell me that I couldn’t be from America. 

This typically leads to conversations about race and diversity in America. For some people who aren’t unaware of the presence of Black people in America, they may refer to me as umlungu myama (pronounced om-loon-goo mm-ya-ma). I was initially told that this means Black American. It was surprising to learn this because myama means black and umlungu means white person. When I first heard the term, I was confused as to how I could be a Black white person. Umlungu has since been clarified to also mean boss or foreigner. Umlungu myama makes a bit more sense, as one gentleman still thinks that I am of Nigerian origin.  In that sense, umlungu myama would mean Black foreigner. I’ve also heard Swazis use the term when describing me in siSwati to someone else. 

In the rarest of occasions, I’ve been referred to as umlungu, without myama. The person shouting in this instance is typically a young man trying to sell me something. I tend to ignore these instances, especially since it usually happens in a big city centre that I don’t frequent. Some things aren’t worth the bother. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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​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.

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. 

Swearing In: a special picture post

On Thursday, my group (G14) along with six Peace Corps Response volunteers took an official oath of service in front of several other currently serving volunteers, dignitaries, community members. Here are some pictures from the event. 

Our country director pinned each of us. It’s a cool pin that has Peace Corps’ logo with the flags the US and Swaziland. Photo credit: Aaron W. 

Black excellence in action. Period. 

Group 14 of Peace Corps Swaziland and the Global Health Service Partnership (PC Response), along with the country director, deputy chief of missions, Ministers of education and economic development. 

My teacher is the best in the business. Timmya challenged me to make sure I learned siSwati. I’m going to miss being in her class. I will get to sleep a bit more. So there’s that. 

These ladies provided great support. I’m looking forward to the next two years. 

As you might know from the previous post, I gave remarks on behalf of my training class. These remarks were given in siSwati. I even ended up on the Swazi evening news. Feel free to read those remarks here. Photo credit: Aaron W.

Students from Saint Frances Primary School performed traditional dance during the ceremony. Photo credit: Aaron W. 

Fancy feast. It’s a brand of cat food in America, but for swearing in, it meant eating like a king. 

If you know me, you know I try to burn bright 366 days a year. Shouts to my brothers and sisters headed to Black Rock City now. 

Thank you to all of the wonderful people who made this happen wherever you are in the world. 

Be kind to yourself. 

Onward. 

Embargoed until delivery

Let’s just start by saying, I AM OFFICIALLY A PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER!

Group 14 swore in yesterday, and I had the distinct honor of giving the trainee class remarks in siSwati. Below, I have included my remarks, both in siSwati and English.

SiSwati –

Sanibonani bonkhosi

Ngiyajabula kutfola lelitfuba lekukhulumela onkhe emavolontiya aG14. Etinyangeni letimbili letendlulile, emavolontiya lachamuka etindzaweni letehlukene taseMelika afike kaNgwane.

Sitikhetsele kutosita emaSwati, siphendvule lubito lwaPeace Corps lwekutsi sitinikele kutovolontiya, selule sandla sebungani, siselulele eSwatini.
Ngitsatsa lelitfuba kubonga ingwenyama yeMaswati kusimema kutsi sitosita eSwatini. Ngendlulisa kubonga kuTraining staff sakaPeace Corps. Ngendlulisa kubonga kubothishela labente siciniseko kutsi sifundza siSwati nemihambo yemaSwati. Ngetulu kwaloko, ngibonga tonkhe tikhulumi netimenywa letetfule tinkhulumo nasisaceceshwa. Kuliciniso kutsi kutsatsa umango wonkhe kufundzisa livolontiya. Ngibonga kakhulu, kakhulu kumango wase Nkamanzi nase Sihhohhweni kusivulela emakhaya netindlu tabo. Siyabonga kwenta siciniseko kutsi silungele kuyosebenta emimangweni yetfu. Sifundzile, sadadisha, sitimisele kuchubeka nekufundza sisatinta eveni lakaNgwane.

Babe Bongani Shiba wake watsi, “silitsimba laseMelika eSwatini, lokusho kutsi emimangweni yetfu sitomelela live nebantfu bonkhe baseMelika”. Wachubeka watsi,”nyalo sesimelele mengameli welive laseMelika noma ngukuphi lapho sihamba khona, etifundzeni totine takangwane, nakuto tongu 55 tinkhundla telive”.

Egameni lemavolontiya elishumi nane (14) solo abuya Peace Corps eSwatini, sicela kunatisa nekucinisekisa kutsi sesilungele. Silungele kusita, silungele kunikela lucobo lwetfu emsebentini, nasekweluleni tandla tetfu tebungani kulo lonkhe laseSwatini.
Siyabonga kutfola litfuba lekusita nekusebenta nani.

Sinitsandza nonkhe!

English –

Good afternoon bonkhosi.

I am honored to be addressing you today on behalf of group 14. Just over two months ago, a group of Americans from different walks of life arrived in Swaziland. We had decided to serve. We answered the call of the US Peace Corps to offer ourselves in service and to extend the hand of friendship.

I would like to thank his majesty, King Mswati the third for inviting us to serve here in Swaziland. I would like to thank all of the Peace Corps Swaziland training staff. I would like to offer special appreciation to our teachers who ensured that we knew siSwati and the cultural norms of Swaziland. I would also like to acknowledge all of the presenters and guest speakers who spoke to us during our training. It is true that it takes an entire community to raise a volunteer. I offer our thanks and gratitude to the villages of Nkamandzi and Sihhoweni for sharing your piece of Swaziland with each of us. Thank you for ensuring that we are ready to serve. We have learned. We have studied. We are committed to continued learning as we integrate into Swaziland.

Babe Bongani Shiba one told me that we are the US delegation in Swaziland. That in the community, we represent everything that America is, and all Americans. Babe Shiba simplified it to say that, “right now, you represent the president of the United States”. All across this great kingdom. In four regions and 55 tinkhundla. On behalf of the 14th group of Peace Corps trainees to be sworn in since the Peace Corps returned to Swaziland, please know that we are ready. We are ready to listen. We are ready to help. We are ready to offer ourselves in service and extend the hand of friendship across the kingdom of Swaziland.

Thank you for allowing us to serve.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Uyasikhuluma singisi?, or 50 Shades of SiSwati

I’m happy to announce that PST is quickly approaching its end. We are less than one week away from officially swearing in as Peace Corps volunteers. I am very excited to move to my permanent site, and start settling in. This past week, my training cohort and I completed another series of interviews to assess our readiness to serve as Peace Corps volunteers. One of those interviews was the Language Proficiency Interview, or LPI. It’s a special feeling to be sitting across from the tester, and not knowing what is being said.

We have been going to language lessons between four to six times per week since mid-June. Learning siSwati has presented various challenges for me. I am not fluent in any language other than English. I know some pleasantries in Spanish, and bit less in French and Russian. One of the things that initially scared me about siSwati is that it’s a tonal language with clicks. The language has many more complexities than I initially thought. There’s the subject-verb agreement, which I am used to. Then, there’s something called the subject concord, which also has to agree. I won’t get into that.

While I find siSwati challenging, I also find it intriguing. Like many languages, there are words that don’t translate directly. For example, there is no direct translation for “respiratory therapy” in siSwati. Instead, a siSwati speaker would say “one who helps with illnesses of the chest”. Contrast this with the word, “divorce”. There is no translation, direct or otherwise, for “divorce”. I have also learned that there is no direct or indirect translation for “affair” (as in the extramarital type) or “orgasm”. Then, there’s a siSwati word, tsandza. Tsandza means “like”, as in “I like chicken”. But tsandza also means love, because there is no proper siSwati word for love. So, ngitsandza inkhukhu could mean “I like chicken”, or “I love chicken”.

It was also a transition to get used to how words are made into plurals. In English, there is one dog, but two dogs. In siSwati, there is one inja, but two tinja. In English, you have one sister, and two brothers. In siSwati, you have one sisi, and two bobhuti.

Overall, it’s been great learning the language. Everyone has been very kind and patient with my language learning struggles and triumphs. This includes the lady who didn’t get angry or upset when I insisted on her giving me a wife, when I thought I was trying to order a fatcake (a delicious, fried doughy pastry).

Thank you very much, or Ngiyabonga kakhulu.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.s. – Uyasikhuluma singisi? translates into “do you speak English?”