Monday in a Picture – Kirby. Full Stop

Guest Post Note: Most of this blog has given you my experience in Peace Corps eSwatini. This week, here’s something a little different. How did Peace Corps eSwatini, through the lens of a PCV, experience me? Meet Lakia. She is currently serving an extension year as a PCV in Peace Corps eSwatini. She enjoys reading, travel, blerd culture and being the greatest aunt ever. Find her on twitter – @pirate_jenn

Kirby P. Riley and I met 2 years and 2 months ago. Well, not really met. More like I tried to greet him on the airport shuttle, he wasn’t interested, I retreated to my own personal space and we carried on from there. But over the span of 2 years and 2 months, I’ve come to completely love and
learn so much from this genuine, kind, slightly anti-social gentleman.

I wish I could sum him up in a neatly bound collection of quirky adjectives and anecdotes, but I can’t. He’s just Kirby. Full stop. Anyone who knows him, knows that this phrase is enough. They understand that there is no box that works, no paragraph that can bind such a fluid individual. All
that I have, all that anyone who knows this weirdo has, is a bunch of interesting experiences so cherished that they simply can’t be shared with just anyone.

Like the times when we traded stories about our work as educators in our respective communities. Kirby is the most dynamic, long-winded storyteller I’ve ever met. But it works, somehow. Because he’s Kirby. Or the times at every Peace Corps training when a guest speaker is present and he has a question. Every question, everywhere, is always prefaced with “Uhhhhhh….hello….Kirby P. Riley,
what-is-kirby-doing-dot-com…..soooo, so my question is….” That’s Kirby. Full stop.

At a glance, he could seem like an aloof individual. But after a range of debates, puzzling Peace Corps moments, crying on his shoulder, and chats into the evening, I have learned he is immensely present. He is there. When you think he might not be paying attention. When you think you only have him as a random colleague in your life. He will show up and surprise you in profound ways. He will stretch your values and demand you know who you are and what you’re talking about. As a true friend does. Full stop.

Kirby P. Riley refuses to be my housemate. Something about “I’ll annoy him forever”, blah blah blah. But regardless, he’s stuck with me. Because like Kirby, while I don’t know everything, I know what matters. Which is when you find something good, something that moves you and helps you grow, you hang on to it. Like the Cowboys, and Reddit, and the Burn, and good soul food and sweet tea. Like our friendship. So sadly, he will find me in lots of places – on the phone, in his emails, his blog posts (but Reddit is where I draw the line, because that place scares me).

Anyone who knows anything about Peace Corps would assume that working in such an organization is trying work that tests your limits. You have to step into the capabilities you are made of. Those assumptions are correct and then some. What I found to be a saving grace in my service has been the connections with those around me who understand the layers of this work and can encourage me while I navigate the complexities of Peace Corps service. Those connections are ones I am deeply grateful for, ones that have changed my life forever. And one of those connections came in the form of a guy filled with heart, soul, compassion and an ear-splitting cackle.

Kirby. Full stop.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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COS: A Reflection on Service

Today is my last day of service in the United States Peace Corps in eSwatini. More than two years ago, I packed up my home in DC and left with four bags heading to Swaziland via Philadelphia and New York. In these past two years, I have laughed and cried. Sometimes for no reason. I have taught and learned. I have gained a handle on some parts of the siSwati language, while completely butchering others. I have had a tremendous amount of time alone with myself and my thoughts. In addition to capacity building and diplomacy, my Peace Corps experience has been a radical experiment in getting to know myself and the surrounding world.

A few days ago, I met some young men while waiting for transport with another PCV. The conversation was similar to several others I’ve had around the kingdom. I talked a bit about my life here as did the young men. One of the young men spoke of his frustrations with school and home life. When he asked what he should do, I offered the advice that I could. Coincidentally, it was very similar to things that my mother and other wise folks have told me. As the other PCV and I made it to our destination, we talked about how the advice was a poignant reminder for us. My advice to the young man was, in many ways, guidance from my former self to the present and future versions of me.

Being here for the past two years has reminded me to embrace the idea of being who you needed when you were younger or in that situation. It may be offering a listening ear or a fresh perspective. It may be sharing some of the mistakes made to help those following not to make the same missteps. In many ways, that’s what I have strived for this blog to be. When I was in the process of applying for Peace Corps, I searched for blogs that reflected the Black PCV experience and, in particular, the Black male PCV experience. It was a difficult task. I remember finding a Black man serving in Indonesia on Instagram. I promptly began following him. I found a Black lady who had served in Georgia. She had an Instagram page connected to her blog, which chronicled her Peace Corps service and travels. I began following her. Their inspiration is part of what led to this blog.

Throughout the life of this blog, I have received feedback on how the blog has helped folks in various ways. Family and friends have learned about eSwatini as I have shared about this experience. Currently serving PCVs in other posts have shared how similar (or different) their host countries are. RPCVs have taken the opportunity to look back and reflect on their own service and life. Swazis have (mostly) appreciated reading about the Swazi culture from an outsider’s view. Prospective PCVs have reached out to ask questions in preparing for their own journey. I am thankful that this blog has served whatever purpose you needed it to serve.

My service has taught me many things. It has opened up new worlds, and allowed me to explore those worlds. I’ve realized that to some folks, I’m their eyes into eSwatini. The eSwatini that I see and speak of is the eSwatini that they know. To realize this power is humbling. To be an authoritative voice of a country (and at times, a continent) and the human experience there is an amazingly tall task. It’s a privilege that I don’t feel that I’ve earned. But that is the crux of privilege. These unearned advantages. Being here has definitely highlighted my own privilege. Being here has highlighted the effects of years of colonialism and imperialism on those colonized. I’ve had students question if they could learn something because, according to them, difficult subjects are for white people. I’ve heard adults questioning whether or not young people from rural Swazi communities were capable of learning certain things.

I knew very little about international development prior to Peace Corps. Admittedly, I still don’t know much. What I can say, after my limited experience, is that I believe that part of the work must be dismantling generations of imperialist thought. For example, I’ve had interactions that started in siSwati. Upon hearing me struggle with speaking siSwati, my conversation partner(s) may start speaking English. The imperialist thought being that “I would rather struggle speaking your language in my country for your comfort.” I noticed several of my students doing this. For this reason, I tried to learn siSwati as best I could. To me, it was the least that I could do to signal that the people and culture here matter.

I have been honored to serve in eSwatini for the past 26 months. I would like to thank all of those who have contributed to this journey. Thank you for the phone calls, letters, postcards, messages, conversations, good vibes, positive energy, and everything else. The journey was made a bit easier because of you.

To my host families. Thank you for welcoming me into your homes and families. For accepting and loving me as your son, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, uncle, nephew and friend. For teaching me about Swazi culture and language. For forcing me to actually speak siSwati.

To my students. Thank you for trusting me. For keeping me on my toes and teaching me the nuances of siSwati. For laughing with me, and at me. For the intentional (and unintentional) laughs at your expense. You are brilliant. Keep being brilliant, and pushing yourselves to be better. I look forward to you doing amazing things in the future for emaswati and the world. Always remember that there is a guy somewhere in the world who believes in you and your greatness.

To my teaching colleagues. Thank you for allowing me to join you on the quest to educate and empower the leaders of eSwatini’s tomorrow. For indulging me in trying out some new, weird (and, at times, uncomfortable) things. For challenging and checking me to ensure that there was substance behind the radical ideas, instead of tightly compressed hot air.

To the people of Lushikishini, Mankayane. Thank you working, laughing, and fellowshiping with me. For the memories. For welcoming me as one of your own. For the time spent on a porch, in a field, or under a tree. For teaching me to slow down and enjoy the day. I once heard that there is a big difference between being still and doing nothing. Thank you for showing me how to appreciate being still.

To emaswati all around the kingdom. Thank you for welcoming me with open arms and warm smiles. For inviting me into your homes, places of worship, and your lives. For teaching me your language and culture. For adopting me into your culture.

To the Peace Corps eSwatini staff. Thank you for supporting me and all of #G14Strong. For the leeway to explore. For listening. For keeping me healthy. For assisting me with navigating the intricacies of the Swazi life, language and culture. For guidance when direction wasn’t apparent.

To my fellow Peace Corps eSwatini volunteers. Thank you for serving with me. For teaching and inspiring me. For bringing your best self. For being supportive in times of struggle. For being celebratory when the need arose. For, at times, being a cadre of cheerleaders reminding me (and all of us) that small victories, like all victories, deserve to be celebrated.

To my family and friends at home. Thank you for keeping in touch. For the phone calls, emails, Whatsapp massages, etc that seemed to lessen the distance. For everything that you’ve done to support me during my service.

To the prospective PCVs. Thank you for reaching out. For reminding me that representation matters. For freely asking questions. For sharing your fears, concerns, and discomforts.

To the followers and readers of whatisKirbydoing on this blog and on Instagram. Thank you for taking this ride with me. For sharing the project with your friends and family. For keeping me engaged. For asking questions. For your likes, comments, and follows.

I know that some are wondering what’s next. I’ll be heading to India soon. The loose plan is to continue eastward until I end up back in DC. During the trek eastward, I’ll be job searching. So if you or someone you know is hiring, please let me know. I’m primarily interested in analyst, IT, or technical writing positions in the public sector although I’m open to other things.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

From the @whatisKirbydoing Instagram: June 27, 2018 at 05:14AM

The front page of the #TimesOfSwaziland today. This Saturday will see #eSwatini’s first #Pride festival. For those who can’t make it to Mbabane, you can join others in the international community of support by going to https://ift.tt/2tIBBnx to show your #SwaziPride. #AllOutSwazi #LGBTQIA #HappyPride #Africa

#Photo cred: @loco.ocho

From the @whatisKirbydoing Instagram: May 10, 2018 at 01:00PM

This week, we had our #COS conference. It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly two years in the #kingdom of #eSwatini. Special thank you to these two ladies for supporting me and the rest of #G14 in our #service: US Ambassador to #Swaziland, Lisa Peterson and #PeaceCorps #eSwatini Country Director, Glenda Green! Siyabonga kakhulu.