Me. As a feminist. 

A few years ago, I was hanging out with a friend after happy hour. Somehow, we got on the topic of feminism. She identified as a feminist. I did not. I viewed feminists as anti-male, and I couldn’t see why I would advocate for the antithesis of my identity. My friend tried to explain to me that my view of feminism greatly differed from what it is. She explained that feminism was about equality. That made sense. I support equality. The problem was that I didn’t see inequalities. I still resisted the term, “feminist”. My friend was patient with me. 

The following year, I moved to Swaziland to begin my service in the Peace Corps. I was reminded throughout my first year in Swaziland that part of privilege is being able to not notice (or not pay attention to) something because it doesn’t adversely affect you. I have no doubt that parts of my experience are correlated to me being a man. During my time here, there have been several instances of gender inequality. Some have been shared or pointed out to me. Others have been blatant. There’s a point when not noticing becomes negligence. It’s possible that the point for me was explaining to various men that I cannot give you any of my women colleagues or friends. Sometimes, discussions ensue regarding me wanting to “keep all the women for myself”. I try to explain that women are not property or rewards, and that women aren’t owned. At some point during my service, something from the past finally made sense. Years ago, a different friend described feminism as “the radical idea that women are human beings.” 

During my service, I’ve had the opportunity to read some of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books. Most recently, I finished “We Should All Be Feminists”, which was an expanded version of a TED talk by the same name. I saw myself in some of the stories she told. I heard pieces of my story in her descriptive tales of folks with singular viewpoints on feminism, or the ‘single story’, as Adichie calls it. I was reminded of those micro-aggressions toward women that I’ve seen at home and abroad. I was reminded of many earlier conversations explaining that Black people in America are savages, and that not all Americans have great financial wealth. I still refer to myself as a Black American despite the negative images conjured in the minds of some people. For years, I’ve understood that Blackness eschews monoculturalism and the single story. There’s no definitive way to be Black. Letting go of some old thoughts has pushed me to the idea that feminism isn’t a single story. It is many things to many people. For me, it’s “the radical idea that women are human beings”. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Sweet Dreams – A Trio of Brides

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 vivid dreaming. The following is what I dreamt last night (as best I can remember). 

I was on vacation in Jamaica. There were plenty of beautiful beaches, but I opted to stay away from the beach. I spent most of my time at a playground/park at an apartment complex. I would talk to whoever came to the park. For some reason, I was more interested in hanging around the park than doing anything else. This was a daily occurrence. 

One day, at the entrance to the park, there stood three men in drag who all looked like Marilyn Manson with the hair of Peggy Bundy. Each man had on a wedding dress with hair matching the color of the wedding dress. I felt like I had seen the trio before but I wasn’t sure. One bride wore a white dress with big white hair. Another bride wore a red dress with big red hair. The other bride wore a deep purple dress with deep purple hair. 

As the trio of brides walked through the park, people started gathering. The wall turned into a processional. Then a priest appeared. The processional ended at the priest. By now, everyone from the apartment complex was in the park to see what was going on. The priest lamented about people always coming to the island to get married and not wanting to live there. He wanted more people to move to the island nation. The priest then continued with the ceremony. As the priest continued with the wedding, I noticed that the only people standing before the priest were the trio of brides. I realized that they were marrying each other and paid closer attention because this was the first wedding triad I’d ever witnessed. 

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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. 

​Monday in a Picture – Bomake Market 

All around Swaziland this week, schools are closing for the year. The academic year here is divided into three terms. The school day is typically divided into different lessons with two breaks. The first break is mid-morning, and lasts approximately 30 minutes. The second break is a lunch break, and lasts approximately 50 minutes. 

During these breaks, 2-4 bomake (pronounced bow-mah-gay), or women set up a snack market on the school grounds. The schools don’t have vending machines. In fact, I haven’t seen any vending machines in the kingdom, that I can remember. The bomake sell all kinds of goodies. These goodies include naks (a maize based snack similar to Cheetos that comes in different flavors), lollipops, popcorn, rolls (called buns here), and fatcakes. On really hot days, there are even ice blocks (a flavored, sweetened frozen slushy solid). 

I’ve noticed that the prices for snacks at the bomake market are pretty standardized. For instance, the going rate for a fatcake or an ice block is one lilangeni, pronounced lee-lan-gay-knee (the currency of Swaziland). The prices remain the same at most, if not all, of the school bomake markets in Swaziland. The homemade snacks (i.e., fatcakes) taste very similar all around the country as well. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Different different, but same.

There are certainly some things that definitely remind me of home here. There are some gender roles and expectations that I’ve seen before.

Typically, I am not involved in the cooking process. I suspect that this is because I am a man. Women and children, usually girls, prepare and serve meals. Here, at my training home site, my sikhoni takes the lead on most of the cooking. This past weekend, she sent in one of the children with sour porridge for breakfast. This was followed by an egg scramble and porridge some hours later for lunch.

As I was doing my laundry this past weekend, I was nudged to give it to one of the children for them to do it. I resisted the temptation. I decided that it would be best for me to learn hand washing, and perfect my technique. There was a compromise that I would let one of the children assist me. I was very thankful because laundry takes much more time and energy than it ever did in DC. After completing my laundry, I asked one of the children if there was a nap culture in Swaziland. With a confused look, he asked what a nap was. I explained that it was a period of rest in the middle of the day. He promptly replied that they don’t do that. I told them that I would sleep for one hour, and then come back out to continue the day.

Upon returning from one of the PST sessions this week, my sisi (pronounced see-see), or sister, asked for my dishes, so that she could wash them. I told her that I had already washed them. She asked if I was sure. I told her that I just had my lunch dish from today. She asked for it. I told her not to worry about it, and I would take care of it. She relented.

While patriarchy is prevalent in both the United States and Swaziland, I can see that it certainly more pronounced here.

This just reminds me of the idea that we are more the same than we are different. Babe (pronounced bah-bay), or father Sheba is one of the training staff in PC Swaziland. He has said several times that we are all going to the same place. It’s just that some of us get there before others. I believe this to be true. It’s all same same, but different.

Of note, in Swazi culture, any father/married man/man old enough to be your father is referred to as babe. This is done out of respect. The same applies for any mother/married woman/woman old enough to be your mother. She is referred to as make. Anyone who is your age, regardless of relation, is referred to as bhuti or sisi. The Swazi culture is a very communal one. Because of this, I feel very welcomed.

I feel the presence of my aunt Nae when I’m at home with my make. We often sit in make’s house and watch the news (in sis-Swati). Whenever King Mswati III is discussed and/or appears on television, she speaks of him very highly. She sounds like a mother who is proud of her son’s accomplishments. This is super similar to some weekday evenings spent with Aunt Nae watching the evening news. Aunt Nae’s version of King Mswati III is President Obama. She absolutely loves him. (Side note: if this post ever makes it to Mr. President, she would love a visit from you – and it doesn’t matter if you’re still in office)

It’s quite often that I feel that the Swazi people have accepted me as one of their own. One evening, while showing my training host family pictures of my family in America, my bhuti looks at my Uncle Pat and says that there is no way that Pat could be in America because he saw him last week in Matsapha (a town in Swaziland). I laughed. Though, it is completely possible that my uncle could just show up.

Onward.