Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Due to an unfortunate incident involving me forgetting my passport in Etsha 13 whilst heading south, my Christmas took a different though still wonderful turn. Thanks to the Mahalpye crew for taking me in at the last minute!This Christmas meant fireworks with children, a delicious dinner thanks to the Shavers, and some festive movie and ornament decorating time.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Metsi Mathata

If there is one thing that you don't take for granted living in Botswana, it's water. There is no happier sound than the gurgle and sputter of your toilet, as this means water is trickling back through the pipes.

That said, my water has been off for 13 days. Eishe.

A couple of days without water, no problem. Etsha 13 and I can handle that. We all have our storage buckets, there are the scattered jojos (big water barrels), and for some parts of the year, the flood plane isn't all too far of a walk. But when, like over the past week or so, it hasn't been raining much, meaning empty jojos, the floods are about as low as they are going to get, and your water stores have been on low for the past 8 days... daily life gets a bit more complicated.

Lucky for me, I can leave Etsha 13 with relative ease. I can utilize the ambulance and friends to bring clean water up or down from me or bathe and wash the necessities at friends' places. I also have an overabundance of water storage containers thanks to my American visitors and their aversion to my salty tap water. Not everyone in my village is as privileged, and even if you know that it's unsafe to drink water from the flood planes or straight from the jojos, these things fall to the wayside if you're dehydrated and running out of options for safe drinking water... this is the sort of shit that leads to babies dying of diarrhea. So absurdly avoidable; this same problem happened with the water pump a few weeks earlier.  Coupled with the horrific shootings in Clackamas, OR and Connecticut, this has been a rough week.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Rough Life

This weekend, in celebration of the births of the lovely Aimee and Matt, a PCV group spent some quality time on an island in the Delta. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Daily Chuckle

"Peace Corps Volunteers aren't allowed to go on The Amazing Race. We're too good at being uncomfortable."
-Marjorie, Bots 11

As saddened as I am that I am no longer eligible for The Amazing Race, I think this quote makes up for it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Case of the "I Hate Everythings"

Before anything else, this post needs a few explanations:

VET GATES: All over Botswana, there are these fences spanning the whole country. To be completely honest, I couldn’t tell you the real purpose for them but they have something to do with keeping the wildlife and the livestock separate… and preventing the spread of foot and mouth disease (see explanation below). Vet gates are one of the worst parts of traveling, because  going through them means that everyone must get out of the vehicle, dragging all of their bags. These bags are often just patted down once or barely unzipped… think the worst event security in the world. It’s 10x more difficult to sneak something into a festival than through these fences and security check points. Once they are done ‘checking’ your bag for shoes, meat and who-knows-what else, you get to walk through gross, white, soda water (I think) and dip all of your extra shoes in the stuff too. Doesn’t sound too terrible if you’re in a private vehicle, but let me tell you…. When the bus is so full that if you’re lucky enough to have a seat, but your arms can be literally stuck in a stranger’s fleshy backside…. It can take forever and a half, feels completely pointless, and half the time people aren’t actually required to get out, especially if it’s dark out or they have a lot of luggage in the trunk that the officers don’t feel like searching, they don’t take the bags out from underneath the bus so all of those shoes are magically immune, and they just blame the disease on the buffalo anyway.

FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE: This is going to be a poor explanation because I actually don’t know much about this disease and don’t won’t to use my airtime on my dongle to look it up… but I do know that it is devastating to farmers who survive off cattle. While I have a strong dislike for Vet Gates, foot and mouth disease is a serious problem that can obliterate a family’s livelihood.

CHINA AND LEKGOA: Frequently, people of any sort of Asian descent are called ‘China,’ usually by children but occasionally by an ill-mannered adult. It doesn’t really matter where one is from, or if he or she is even Asian as I have had completely Caucasian friends report being called China as well.  Lekgoa means white person or English speaker... this one is also usually done by children or old people, but adults will use this term more frequently. Generally, I would say the terms are not derogatory, but rather a statement as pointing out physical characteristics (from weight to hair styles) is a just a part of Batswana culture.

HOW MANY BUSES I HAVE BEEN ON LATELY: a lot of them. Going a long ways away.

With these explanations, the following what not to do is from a single weekend of travel.

 What NOT to do when you have a case of the “I Hate Everythings…”
I would not recommend that when the bus conductor repeatedly calls you ‘China’ and Lekgoa’ and then pushes you out of the way in a tiny aisle on a crowded bus while you’re not paying attention to him, to tell him he is being a giant ass. I would however continue to tell him that is unacceptable, especially an adult speaking to a customer, to call someone “China” and/or “Lekgoa.” It also probably isn’t the best idea when forced to go through the vet gate again because someone pulled your bag off after you got out because it looked like it would contain shoes (… they were only worn once, okay? I didn’t want to get that slimy stuff on my new shoes and then stuff them back in a bag) to pitch a fit when they actually search your whole bag and make you walk through the slimy stuff three times because your shoes weren’t covered in the fluid the first and second time around, and finally bark at the guy searching your stuff that ‘this is (you can probably fill in the expletive here) stupid’…. They will remember you and ask if you are in a better mood the next time you go through there. Lucky for you, they will laugh it off, and so will you.

What to do when you have a case of the “I Hate Everythings”
Spend the afternoon watching The Sound of Music and taking a cue from the film, compile a list of your favorite things:
-sunset over bots after a thunderstorm
-the so-fluffy-I-could-die baby donkeys
-the smell of baskets
-mosadi magolos (old ladies) -from refusing to do anything while standing, gossiping under trees, well-meaning sense of ownership over me in e13, to their great pride in saying, I’m a mosadi magolo, I’m not doing that.. I find them adorable and hilarious.
-when Batswana have the same reaction I do to something interesting on the bus- i.e. an elephant charging across or the driver doing something stupid….
-my neighborhood kids… even when they’re being bratty and obnoxious.
-thunder and lightening
-boating on the Okavango Delta
-southern carmine bee eaters (they’re hot pink birds that have long tails!)

From personal experience, I can say the latter will relieve your frustration while the former will just leave you feeling embarrassed. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

This year I am thankful for:

My family, both immediate and otherwise, my mom and her friends for flying halfway across the world to see me, my incredibly supportive friends from high school and my McAlister&Friends family who constantly remind me what amazing people I have been blessed with in my life, the amazing PCV community and people that inspire and support me and are just, my Batswana co-workers/counterparts (both the easy to work with and the not-so-easy-to-work-with… always learning), my Batswana counterparts who took me up on my offer to share the idea of thanksgiving with them, Peace Corps Volunteers willing to host 30 volunteers for holidays, both the bratty and the adorable children in my village, water, vegetables, and refrigeration; postcards, internet and it’s opportunities to communicate;  my country for giving me the opportunity to be in Botswana, and all of the opportunities, decisions, and luck, that led me to this spot right now. It’s been a crazy ride and I can’t wait to see what comes next. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Americans in Africa

My mama and friends came to visit, which meant I got to spend some quality time with them exploring Bots and the surrounding areas! 

We went on an AMAZING safari- we were told that it was some of the best game viewing he'd ever seen by someone living here. We saw tons of giraffes, hippos, crocs, hoofed creatures, zebra, lions, literally hundreds and hundreds of elephants, two leopards and a wild dog (only about 2000 left in the world!

This lovely lady leopard walked right up to our vehicle!

some of the hundreds of elephants we saw

lion post meal

We also shimmied over to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe; the falls were beautiful but the bureaucracy in Zim was not so great.  

Then, we took a quick jaunt through the Caprivi strip in Namibia, stopping over to stay in some amazing tree houses and back down to my village. The ladies helped out in my clinic, with my PACT Club, learned about basket weaving, and spent a little time on the Okavango River.

It was a wonderful whirlwind of a time and so nice to show my mama and friends my life here. It's hard to explain all of the crazy details over facebook or a blog, so I'm happy that more people were able to see this wonderful, challenging, hot, beautiful place. 

A special thank you to everyone who sent stuff with my mom over here... as I told most of you already, I brought it back up to my village after sending my visitors off... it lead to a lot of laughing and crying at the same time. Most of all it made me feel so much love and support- KE A LEBOGA THATA THATA! You are all amazing. A special thank you as well to my mom, Lori, Kathy, and Karen for hauling all of that across the world and for coming all the way to see my life here. <3

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


What to do when the waters been off for four days, you’re out of clean clothes and really need to do laundry and you don’t have enough water left in storage to bath, let alone wash clothing, the electricity is flickering on and off, the guidance counselor your working with has decided to cancel PACT Club (again) without notice, and it’s over 40◦C (105F)….

Turn on an episode of How I Met Your Mother, cook something good to eat with a friend, and try again tomorrow, of course.

PS Happy Election Day! I managed to vote from Botswana, I hope you did too!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Namibia Vacation

Having just returned from an amazing vacation in Namibia, my top five:

5. Mma Tokalosi: She is the result of a “if it’s not a good time it’s a good story” moment. A khombi driver who was supposed to be our transport throughout our vacation was being a royal pain and screwing us out of money, so we decided to toss out that plan and hitchhike. This weird doll was sitting in the back of the khombi under a seat, so we decided she should come along with us for the remainder of the trip. The result was numerous entertaining photos with a creepy doll. I’m not sure if anyone else outside of the group there will think this is funny, but we all found it hilarious.

4. Hitchiking: As mentioned above, our transport was not as expected. Luckily, Namibia has a flourishing hitchhiking culture. I hitched over 1500 km throughout the trip, and never waited over half an hour for a ride. It was quite possibly the easiest time I have ever had getting around through hiking and we had some interesting rides.

3. The Atlantic Ocean: I saw the ocean for the first time in 8 or so months, so that was awesome. Cooler weather, salty air, and seafood (more on this later), what’s not to like?

2. Quad Biking in the Namib Desert: Swakopmund is a beach town famous for its food, adrenaline related activities, and sand dunes. We spent a day on quads out in the Namib Desert… so clearly this makes the top five. We also went sand boarding down the dunes that were much steeper than I was expecting, and proportionally fun.
1. Food & Drink: I think I ate my body weight in seafood, Mexican food, sushi, schnitzel, pizza, burgers, etc etc. I’m salivating just thinking about all of the delicious things I ate now that I’m back at site.  The first night in Namibia, we went to a restaurant that had game meat and beer from a microbrewery…. We were in heaven. I had a real beer and zebra, which was quite possibly the best meal I have ever had (although it is possible that my standards are a bit lower than normal). Regardless of where my standards fall, there was a whollllle lot of consuming. We joked that our goal was to come back from Namibia 10 lbs heavier and we gave it a good effort.

For all of the wonderful things that Namibia had to offer, I’m still really happy that I live in Botswana.  There were several ‘if it’s not a good time it’s a good story’ moments, most of which we did manage to make a good story out of it. There were a select few moments that were just infuriating and a good reminder that Namibia is younger than I am as a country and race is still a huge issue (Namibia was under South African rule until its independence in 1990). Suffice it to say, Namibia was a wonderful break from village life but I am really happy that I am living in Botswana. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Family Bonding Workshop!

My alternative title for this is “Such a Successful Workshop that People Actually Showed Up in Spite of Not Having Enough Food and Drinks” but that seemed a little wordy.
People loooooove going to workshops in Botswana. After attending few, I understand why to some extent. You usually get meals, occasionally you get per diem and lodging, and it’s an excuse to skip out of your regular job. Sometimes though, workshops can be very dry. There can be a lot of talking at you, for hours. And hours. This is especially rough when you speak little Setswana, but based off the sleepy Dikgosi, I think everyone feels this way. So really, most people go to workshops for the free lunch. Hopefully they usually take at least something away from it too, but I do feel that food is a big motivation for attendance. So the fact that the workshop was over capacity and we ran out of food and drinks… and yet people stuck around resonates.

Our theme was ‘Family Bonding,’ meaning we focused on healthy relationships between couples and parents and children, in a whole variety of aspects. I planned sessions relating to HIV and co-planned/facilitated (with the help of several wonderful translators) introductory sessions, gender based violence, healthy relationships, and pre/post tests. People were actually engaged in all of the sessions and willing to discuss, even debate, during the activities. Organizing these types of events can be very hit or miss, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into it. It helps that we had a really great group of facilitators, a few people that I’ve worked with before and a couple of people that I am so excited to work with again. I also think that there are very few opportunities for community members, especially adults, to discuss their relationships in an open manner like the workshop provided. Whatever the reason… the subjects struck a nerve and honest, open discussion poured out.

At the end of the workshop a man, who had told me several months ago that babies are made solely out of semen and women are simply carriers of the fetus, made the comment (well based off the translation) “I really hope that more workshops like this one continue in this village. I have learned so much about why I have difficulties in some of my relationships. This workshop has pointed out some bad habits and given me a lot to think about.” If that isn’t validation, I don’t know what is. Planning this workshop has been pretty stressful and fairly disorganized; I was nervous about getting up in front of a group of adults (as opposed to behind the scenes work or talking with kids), many of the village Kgosis, people I buy my airtime and onions from, and the community volunteers I work with regularly and presenting to people in Setswinglish and asking them to get up and discuss some tough and uncomfortable topics. It was really wonderful to have a project work out so well, when too often projects have come up against barriers time and time again. We are also doing the same workshop in two neighboring villages, and hopefully we will see the same response.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Four Day Weekends= Epic Camping in the Salt Pans

Botswana Independence Day meant a four day weekend and an amazing time with some fabulous people. I think the following pictures sum it up.

Vast nothingness surrounds you everywhere you look

Some of my favorite ladies and me sitting in the pan, having some fun with my fisheye
                                                                     Meerkats doing their thing

Under a baobab over 1000 years old

Botswana Independence Day means a four day weekend, which meant spending time with a whole bunch of PCVs at the lodge/campsite Planet Baobab and the Makgadikgadi salt pans. We spent a bunch of time by the pool avoiding the 100+ degree heat, hanging out under thousand year old baobabs, sleeping under the stars (and getting the bug bites on my face to prove it), and taking a trip into the middle of the largest series of salt pans in the world.

In other news, I finally have a refrigerator in my life again which means so many good things, such as: cheese, yogurt, no more powdered milk, cold water, being able to eat meat besides just on slaughter days, vegetables that last longer than 2 days, leftovers that aren’t suspect, finally being able to buy fish in my village, popsicles, butter that isn’t liquid…. If I were a poet I would write an ode to refrigeration when it’s always over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Training Wheels Are Off...

Being back in the village has been BUSY! And mostly awesome. Now that the training wheels of the community assessment are long gone, highlights include:
·       -  My windows have been fixed! No more chicken wire or boarded up windows.
·        - A series of productive meetings that led to PACT Club (youth health club) and HIV/AIDS Support Group meetings actually getting scheduled and planned.
·         -MAIL!!!!! Letters and packages galore. AMAZING. Thanks mom/dad, Aunt Tam, Grandpa Steve and Jan for some incredible, awesome, delicious, and fun things and  a little bit of ‘Merica.
·         -Observing/assisting with the basic non-bodily fluid based stuff of a birth! This was pretty awesome and slightly terrifying but mostly awesome. I was only able to observe/help with the tail end of things because she began during the lunch break, but hopefully I’ll get to help with another one soon.
·         -The first elephant sighting! Aimee and I had been on a mission to see an elephant for weeks, with the running joke that we only see animals after we’ve had really frustrating and unproductive days. The elephant showed itself after we had spent the day in Gumare trying, to no avail, to get our furniture sorted out. Just when Botswana has beaten ya down, an elephant will charge in front of your bus.
·        - Obtaining fruit trees for my clinic’s garden. And it was easy. Next to nothing is simple here… I showed up to the forestry department at 4pm on a Friday and someone was there, and she was helpful. Then on Tuesday, my clinic found transport to pick up the fruit trees. And we went and picked them up without a hassle. For all of these things to just happen, without any issues was absolutely amazing.
·         -Chicken slaughter (sacrifice!). Aimee and I, with the help of our friend Theo, slaughter, cleaned and cooked a chicken.  And then ate chicken tacos with some of the tasty stuff sent in care packages.
·         -Fishing on the delta. Obviously, that was amazing too. I think this picture explains why.
·         Taking my new friend, Moloi, home! Now I’m not really a cat person, but I have to say he/she (sex tba) is growing on me. Plus, I haven’t seen
·          -Turning 23 years of age.  I was able to see the Gumare crew, have more actually productive meetings, braii and video skype with my family for the first time in five months. And then get to party it up over the weekend in Maun for a joint bday celebration. Wonderful.
·         -First PACT Club meeting with the Junior Secondary School students, and it went well! I’m really looking forward to working with them and other students in the area.
·         -Teen Club, a group for HIV positive youth (almost all members were born HIV+) is up and running! Our first official meeting will be this weekend.

It’s funny, because during IST I was nervous about heading back to my quiet, little village after being around so  many Americans and shopping malls for a couple of weeks, plus the added pressure and expectation that projects would be off the ground and functioning. But almost magically, things starting falling together and programs that I had been pushing for weeks began to take off. There is a whole bunch of good things ahead too- Family Bonding workshop, GLOW camp (youth life skills stuff), Breastfeeding Day, and I’m starting aerobics classes twice a week in the evening. For the first time since being in Botswana, I’m feeling a little stressed about my workload! It’s nice change of pace J

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Whirlwind of Workshops and IST

It has been a real intense couple of weeks. I’ve traveled more or less all over the country, had a whole bunch of training, a whole bunch of reuniting and merry-making, and eishe am I happy to see my little village again.

Two weeks ago, I was in Maun (the biggest town within six hours from me) for a very intense grant writing workshop, hosted by aid organization SAREP. One of our PCV Leaders invited a group of us from the Delta region to attend along with several organizations to help each organization write a (hopefully successful) grant. This also means that I was able to spend the last week with super fast internet, a shower, and grocery stores, which was quite a treat.  
Most PCVs were paired with organizations at random; I was lucky enough that an organization that I had already been working with was also invited to the workshop. The Ngamiland Basket Weavers Trust is an organization that I have worked a little with, based in the Etsha villages. They are a group of weavers composed primarily of women, so it has been fantastic to work with an organization focusing on women and income generation. They want to host a workshop in the region and wanted SAREP’s help, so we spent one very intense day writing a grant proposal.

It was probably the most hectic, intense work day that I have had in Botswana. It was like writing the paper the night before it’s due, plus there is a language barrier and you’re working with two other people to figure out exactly what they want and then put it into words. It was exhausting, but in the end we were pretty happy with the proposal and we all learned a lot about the grant writing process.

Then, one long bus ride and an even longer, though hilarious, hitch later, In-Service Training came in Gaborone. All of Bots 12 intake group came together for a little over a week of training and enjoying each other’s company in the capital city. There were a lot of sessions- some helpful and some atrocious. On the good end, I got a ton of ideas for activities and improving things we're already doing, and on the other hand, we learned just how terrible the NACA (HIV/AIDS on the national level) is. It was wonderful and a little bit crazy being back with the Bots 12 family, but I am certainly happy to be in the village again.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Life With Out Windows

I thought I would share one of the more frustrating (and funny) experiences I have had here. Most of the time, I am so happy that I am here and feel very content with my decision to join Peace Corps, even with the occasional issue or discomfort. My windows have been a source of frustration over the past few weeks, and I want to explain what happened with them today.

So my back windows are made of chicken wire. No glass, no screens, just chicken wire. Now I can lock the door to the rest of my house, which includes everything but the toilet and tub rooms, so safety isn’t my greatest concern (though I do find it a bit worrisome). But, as I have mentioned before, I live on a lake, so even though it isn’t the rainy season, I have a disgusting amount of mosquitoes and I live in a malaria endemic region. Thus, I have been trying to get the buildings department to come out and do something about the chicken-wire-window-mathata. Now by this, I mean that I have been going to Gumare just about every week, making phone calls and using up my airtime, just to get to no answers or assistance in dealing with this since I arrived in Etsha 13.

After many hours of frustration, in my last visit to the buildings dept in Gumare before heading south to a workshop and then IST (which means I will be out of my village for over two weeks), I (nicely) made it clear that I was not pleased that I had to leave my house with this still an issue, as burglary is a common issue in my region. Due to my past experiences, I didn’t really think that I would see them again before I left, but lo and behold, guess who showed up on my doorstep today? Why, the buildings department crew of course!

Initially, I had a wave of excitement, until I saw what the back of the pickup held… just two large plywood pieces. And that was all. A look of confusion crossed my face, and the very nice man that I have been working with hastily explained that they were going to board up my windows, temporarily. His use of the word “temporarily” was very disheartening to me, because based off experience that most likely meant the boarded up windows would come down sometime around June 2014.

As they boarded up my windows, the nice man could tell I was not very pleased with the whole thing. I was trying not to be a total brat about the situation because he had come all the way up to Etsha 13 on short notice, but again, see the June 2014 comment to understand my frustration. Once the crew was done, he asked me to clarify what I wanted with the windows as he sensed my displeasure. I explained that it was very important that I didn’t live in a cave for the next two years, and that I just wanted screens, simple screens is all. To which he replied, “what do you mean by screens? Isn’t this some form of screening, now people can’t see in? We had thought you maybe wanted the windows bricked in or boarded up?” Apparently, the buildings department calls what Americans know as screens, guaze and had no clue what I have been talking about for the past two months. Language barrier: 1, Boo: 0. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

That 'Community Assessment' Thing

During our first two and a half months at site Peace Corps Volunteers have one big assignment, known as the Community Assessment. As I’ve spent the last two months interviewing community leaders, observing trends, analyzing clinical data, and writing this report, I thought I would share a bit of what I am working with. Besides, I should probably describe what I am actually doing here beyond stalking hippos and learning how to cook elaborate meals.  

For some background, the reason that all PCVs are in Botswana is to work in one way or another with HIV/AIDS. Peace Corps actually left Botswana in the 1990s, but was asked back because of the pandemic in 2003. Botswana has the second highest prevalence of HIV in the world but is also considered a middle income country, hence the leaving and returning.  But about that- the area that I am living in is often overlooked, especially in comparison to other parts of Botswana. Etsha 13 and 6 have the worst (main) roads that I have seen in the country; numerous buses come through daily and, when packed so full that you’re standing on top of each other, choose to drive on the sand because the paved portion is so bad. The closest equivalent to a high school is 5 hours away by bus. There is only one hospital on this western side of the delta, and many of the clinics in between share ambulances.

We were told that most people have been inundated with HIV education so we’ll need to find other ways to reach people than plain and simple health education; this has not seemed to apply to many people in Etsha 13 and the surrounding areas. This sub-district has repeatedly scored among the lowest for HIV knowledge of prevention and transmission, Etsha 13 has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the region, and I have had some very interesting conversations with a couple of community leader who insisted that sperm is the only thing responsible for pregnancy and that women are just the carriers of the baby. Other PVCs in my region have told stories of ‘women giving birth to black mambas’ (and they mean the snakes, not the Duck's RB DeAnthony Thomas) or that HIV is one of the easiest diseases to have, because you don’t have to watch your diet like with diabetes. One of my neighbors is a traditional healer who regularly handles blood and other biohazardous waste without any sort of protection.

Thus, an area that I will be continuing to focus on is HIV education. Aside from these alarming anecdotes, nutrition, teenage pregnancy, lack of support for orphans & vulnerable children, and alcohol abuse are the other large issues in my village, and there just aren’t as many resources up here. Etsha 13 also has many challenges in terms of general education level and a huge language barrier between the elderly and the clinic staff. Transport is constantly a problem here as well, as there just aren’t enough ambulance to go around for the clinics and there are many rural communities (even more rural than Etsha 13) that maybe see some minimal sort of health care once a month, if they’re lucky.

In spite of the many challenges facing Etsha 13, there are also some wonderful things already happening. Backyard gardens are popular considering the very sandy terrain, three community mobilizers are working in the village to encourage a better understanding of HIV, and there are a few motivated individuals working on getting a support group for those infected and affected by HIV. My main projects for the next few months should revolve around a clinic-based garden, the support group, PACT/GLOW Clubs at the schools (clubs that promote healthy lifestyle, self confidence, leadership etc), and working with some basket weavers, for fun J I’ve gotten a few things off the ground for each of these and I’m looking forward to returning from In-Service Training in a couple of weeks to really dive into my projects!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Top Five Reasons I Love My Village

5. The size. One of the things I thought I would be missing out on by coming to Botswana was the ‘traditional Peace Corps Experience’ that most volunteers have worldwide. Many volunteers in Botswana are placed in more urban settings, working in offices or the like so I was anticipating this to be the case for me. Turns out, I still get to live in rural Botswana and work out in the community, living in a village where most people know who I am (even if I have no clue if I have met them before or not).  About a week after I was introduced in the Kgotla (where meetings with the chief and other community leaders happen), all of these kids suddenly knew my Setswana name. I’ll walk by and they will either scream it “Loooooorrrrrrraato!” or they’ll whisper “Lorato,” just to see if I’ll really respond to it. Then I’ll look at them and say hi and about half will laugh and run away. I just wouldn’t get that in bigger villages.

4. The house. I may never get my bathroom sink fixed, who knows when the rest of my furniture is coming, and I’ll have lizards, bats, and semi-posionous spiders until I leave here, but my house is pretty plush. I have running water and electricity, and two bedrooms! And besides all of that great stuff, I have a cute little breakfast nook (chicken wire windows to be replaced) that looks onto a flood lake, at least for a little while longer, and into an awesomely traditional and beautiful compound with the best opportunities to people watch. They’re building a reed hut now, and pounding sorghum. It’s awesome.

3. The job. I get to make my own job, how awesome is that?! These first two months have been me assessing what the community actually wants and needs from me, and now I get to decide what to work on. I am just so excited to get up and go to work every day, seriously even analyzing HIV testing data is fun. How often can that be said about data analysis? My week generally start with some sort of plan, and then next to nothing happens the way I think it will. Luckily, something usually ends up working out one way or another, with a little wait time of course, but I can usually find something else to do in the meantime, like plan what I want my job to be. Plus, I get to work in exactly the area I have wanted to work in for years.

2. The Arts. For every event I have been to in Etsha 13at least one if not several traditional dance groups show up and perform, and each style is different and each dance tells a story. There are also usually musicians that come along with the performances. Most of all, I’m in the basket weaving capital of Botswana! I’m working with some wonderful women to get the basket crafts a little further off the ground and they’re going to teach me how to weave. It’s a crafters paradise!

1. The Combo. The fact that all of these things are combined into one site is awesome.  I get to live in a small village in a rural part of the peaceful country of Botswana, yet I still have running water, electricity, access to public transportation, and cell phone service.  Plus, people here make beautiful crafts and still carry on with many of the traditional aspects of life and because it is so underserved, there is a lot that I can do directly with the health education aspects of HIV/AIDS is amazing. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4th of July

So it’s the 4th of July, a holiday that I was more nervous about how I would feel missing back home than Christmas. But I have to say, so far so good. No major bout of homesickness, although I think it helps that I haven’t been able to spend much time on the internet finding out what everyone is doing and that it rained on the fireworks last weekend at the lake. As much as it bums me to hear about a rainy 4th, it does make me feel happier about being in Botswana during one of my favorite holidays. It also helps that today was full of ‘Peace Corps Moments’.
The day started out at the clinic with the chance that I would catch a ride with one of the medical trucks to Gumare (a town nearby) to talk to the woman in charge of us and our housing as I am still missing most of my furniture (ga gona mathata, I’ve got the important stuff but I would like to fill up my empty living room) and needed to take care of some other business. So I spent the morning in the clinic, helping with patient intake, vitals, cute babies, practicing Setswana and attempting to meet and communicate with community members. All of the before mentioned: Peace Corps Moments. Aimee is in the same boat furniture-wise, so we managed to get her a ride to E13 so we could take the free ride together. It was the usual confusion regarding language and communication methods, will she be here or not? but then rapid Setswana is spoken and an ambulance ends up bringing her to my clinic. Something looking like it won’t work out and then somehow magically does: Peace Corps Moments.
So, we hopped in the back of the canopied truck bed ambulance and went on our way, taking the sandy part of the road instead of the paved part because it’s so beat up. Foreign country transport: PCM. We arrive in Gumare, and it’s lunch time and no one is in. So, we go do some other errands and find some of the best clementines ever out of the back of someone’s pickup bed. Finding random delicious food just when you think you’re surrounded by only white bread flour and refined oil: PCM. We head back to the hospital, and then spend the next four hours there being passed off from person to person, no one who really knows why we don’t have our furniture, or who should be paying for it, providing it, fixing up our houses, reimbursing us, etc., etc., but eventually we are reassured that someone is working on it now (and yes, that means they weren’t before). But we were able to meet a whole bunch of people who deal with things like supplies and funding, so it was totally worth it. Something being awesome and annoying at the same time: PCM. Then we caught an ambulance back right near sundown, with a whole bunch of other people stuffed in the back of this truck. Watching the sun set from the back of a converted truck to ambulance over a mud and thatch village: PCM. In spite of the lack of family, friends and fireworks on the lake, I’m pretty happy with my Fourth of July J

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Life in Etsha 13

Well, I have been a site for two weeks now and eesh has it been an intense two weeks. The upper delta crew didn’t make it out of Kanye for an extra day as our ride broke down on the way to pick us up. Once we were on our way, the trip went well. We were able to see a bunch of African wildlife on the two-day ride north, including a bunch of ostrich, warthogs, springbok, and wild dogs.  Finally, I was dropped off at my house (which was vacant for me! Not all volunteers were as lucky) and I got to see my village! As we got closer and closer (and further away from any big towns and well maintained roads) my excitement was ready to burst.  And then we entered the Etsha villages, which are fairly different from much else that I have seen in Botswana. With the exception of government housing, the majority of the village is traditional, and not necessarily in the typical Botswana fashion (the Etshas were created in the 1970s as permanent settlements for Angolan refugees and thus I will be learning a new language and culture from what I spent the past two months on. More on this later). Many of the houses are square huts, made of clay, sticks (because there are tall trees here!), reeds and thatch. It’s beautiful.
So the best part about Etsha 13 thus far is that I have a view of a lake! In a country covered by desert, the fact that I can see water is AMAZING. And there aren’t any scary animals (except for mosquitoes) that live in this part of the lake so rest assured I won’t be eaten by a crocodile in my backyard while I’m watching the hundreds of awesome birds that flock to the water (Lydia, I’m thinking of you every time I see African Fish Eagles fighting over food with these big white heron looking birds and wishing you were here to identify them for me!) Now this lake will recede at some point, and unfortunately also flood in some sort of high and low cycle over decades and has ended up displacing numerous people along the delta so there are some potential issues with the pretty water. But for now, I’m just enjoying some gorgeous sunsets.
As for my housing, two weeks in and I still don’t have all of my furniture or appliances, but I didn’t manage to get a bed and a stove so I can eat and sleep. It’s also crazy big, I did not think that I would be living in a house with two bedrooms, a flush toilet, electricity and a lake view when I applied for the Peace Corps. Though I have to say, it isn’t the physical comforts that make this experience difficult. You adjust surprisingly quickly to living without a shower and finding foods that don’t require refrigeration. That said, I can’t say I’m disappointed I won’t be spending the next two years intimately acquainted with a pit latrine.
Beyond the housing basics, my first weekend consisted of settling in and trying to discover what food was available in my village and the surrounding larger, or ‘shopping’ villages. And cleaning. I forgot to mention that my house was a nest of semi-poisonous spiders and clearly had been empty for awhile. I’m still working on scrubbing down the house two weeks later.
As for the first week, it was… intense. exciting. OVERWHELMING. busy. fun. slow. confusing. interesting. clarifying. A dive into Setswana and Sembukushu. So many new people with names in three languages, each like learning a new word. Different than most of what PST told me to expect. Some parts were exactly what I was told to expect and it was like a light bulb of recognition. As I’ve said before, Peace Corps is a lot of things at once. The first week was an excellent example of this.
                 I’m stationed at the clinic, but I am a community volunteer. My counterpart has an excellent understanding of Peace Corps and what I should be doing as a volunteer; she should be fantastic in the long run but I was definitely lacking direction in the first week. She understands that I should not be in the clinic at all times and that I am not just another staff member, but I wasn’t really sure what to do outside of the clinic during work hours. She also wants me to learn Setswana and Sembukushu and thus doesn’t speak a lot of English except to clarify things. Thus, I’ve learned a lot of Setswana and a little Sembukushu in two weeks, but I’m not always clear on what is happening and spend a lot of time trying to decipher Setswana or just spacing out during meetings.
The second week was a lot less overwhelming, confusing, and intimidating. At first, I felt as though all of the ideas I came in with and my background would be completely useless, as there are some really great things already happening in Etsha 13 and I had no clue what I had to offer the village. Thankfully, the ‘I’m in way over my head’ feeling has receded and I’m starting to find my rhythm, see potential projects, and get a clearer view of Etsha 13.
One thing that really helped this change was when Aimee, a volunteer just north of me, and I went to Gumare to do some grocery shopping last weekend. The minute we saw each other on the bus it was word vomit, neither of us could shut up over our weeks. Aimee’s village is comparable to mine and we had a very similar first week, so it was wonderful to know that I wasn’t the only one feeling a lost over where to start. We met up with Dave and Jeff in Gumare and got to talk out our weeks and I returned to Etsha 13 feeling much more capable and comfortable.  I’m looking forward to what week three brings!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's Official!

After two months of training, a yearlong application process, and a decade of interest in the Peace Corps, I am officially a sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteer! Oh man has it been a long time coming. I remember looking up all of the places that Peace Corps sent volunteers as a middle school student, high school senior, college freshman, college senior, six months ago when my Honduras placement got cancelled, and here I am in Botswana working with HIV/AIDS. I think my 14-year-old-self would be pretty stoked to know I ended up here.
We were sworn in by the US Ambassador and in attendance was the former President of Botswana along with many other important figures in Botswana government, Kanye government, and the fight against HIV/AIDS. While the ceremony was long and we were able to see firsthand how protocol (i.e. individually recognizing important figures every time a new speaker has anything to say) can take something that should be 5 minutes and turn it into 10, it was very exciting and emotional moment when we took the oath to serve.
Swearing in also means the end of PST, which has its pros and cons (as with almost everything in Peace Corps). It means leaving the comfort zone of Kanye, other PCVs, our host families, and staff members and the nerves of venturing out on our own and entering a new community. It also means finally getting out of Kanye, getting away from other Americans, host families, and Peace Corps staff and getting out on our own and seeing what our new community is all about! Joking aside, it was sad saying goodbye to many of my friends, placed in every corner of the country, until In-Service training in August. We are entering the stage of training best known as “lockdown” although the Peace Corps name for the time period is less threatening. It basically means that we should spend the next two and a half months in our communities, only traveling outside for things like fresh vegetables in our shopping villages.  And instead of diving into projects, we are taking this time to really get to know our community inside and out and assess what the community wants and needs from a PCV.
As a whole bundle of emotions, the one that stands out the most among the nervous, content, nostalgic and stressful feelings is my excitement. I’m so excited for the journey ahead with all of the ups and downs that I know are coming and the growth that hopefully comes from all of it. I know that it will be tough adjusting to my community and that I will probably be completely freaking out within the next month or so but right now, I’m just excited to get to that point. I’m just hoping that I have a house when I arrive in my village. Getting housing set up for Peace Corps Volunteers is a nightmare in Botswana; if I’m really lucky I’ll have all of my furniture as well J

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Diamonds and Chicken Slaughter

The last few weeks of PST were a whole lot of things at once. Emotions were all over the place, and it was kind of like leaving the US again. I was so excited to start on what I came here for and relieved to be finished with the everyday sessions, but I was also very nervous about getting to site and leaving friends, my host family, and our wonderful LCFs who are sympathetic to all of our cultural goofs. But more on that later, right now I want to write about chickens and diamonds.
 If the title isn’t warning enough, to all of my veggie friends- I helped slaughter a chicken. And it was a really interesting experience, so I’ll try not to be too gory but it was gory in ways I wasn’t expecting so if you’re squeamish skip ahead to the diamonds part. Otherwise, read on.
After hearing that several volunteers had helped their families with the chicken slaughter process, it became something I really wanted to do during PST. Now as a general rule, I don’t get much joy out of death, but I love me some chicken, beef, fish, and yeah, I’ve eaten goat. It’s good. That said, I feel like I have to come to terms with the reality of meat. Plus, the meat in Botswana doesn’t get any more free range; cows, goats and chickens frequently wander through the neighborhood.
Anyways, back to the chicken. A group of us went to a fellow trainee’s compound to watch and assist in the process. We chased the chicken around until it was tired out, finally catching it in the bushes. From there, I took the task of holding down the body while Nathan made the cut. *Warning, here is the gross part* Obviously, the phrase “chicken with its head cut off” comes from somewhere, but I can honestly say I was not expecting the body and head to twitch for that long. I figured it would tremble a bit and that would be that. Likely it felt longer than it was but there was about 20 seconds of movement, body and head both. And that wasn’t even the worst part. By far the most disturbing thing was feeling the heart stop beating. I could feel the final pumps of that chicken’s heart, the pressure decreasing and the frequency slowing. It didn’t even bleed that much but gahh I’m cringing as I write this.
Once that was over with, it shifted from an animal to food quickly. We boiled the chicken in a cauldron over a fire, and plucked away. It looked like something you could buy in a grocery store once the feathers were off. I didn’t get to stay to watch the cuts made, but hopefully I’ll get to see that another time over the next two years.
I’ve eaten chicken since then, and intend to continue eating meat. Even though it was a far from pleasant experience, I’m really glad I did it and if I get the chance, I’ll assist in preparing dinner again. Now, I’ll change the subject from the gross stuff to some diamond fun.
For a little background on Botswana, the reason it is a middle income country is because there are loads of diamonds and the government used the wealth responsibly, by building roads and schools and whatnot.  The diamonds are mined here, sorted and shipped off somewhere, and many come back here to be cut and/or polished. The details of the whole process have escaped me, but I have a newfound appreciation for diamonds after getting to see them in various stages. Plus, I got to hold some big ole rocks so that was pretty neat.
The trainees were able to go on two separate tours, to a polishing plant and where they sort the diamonds.  We were able to see plenty of diamonds in the rough getting sorted according to shape, size, clarity, color, etc etc; thousands of diamonds just lying around in piles waiting to be examined. They were sorted by hand and using machines, and with machines and human eyes together. We were able to look up close at diamonds polishing other diamonds, watch people decide how  to bets cut a 10 carat diamond, and see the combination of technology and human eyes deciding what to do with thousands of dollars in the palm of a hand. At the sorting, I found the dark diamonds that were to be used for machinery really interesting as I wouldn’t have been able to pick them out of any pile of rocks. At the polishing plant, we were able to see the raw rocks take the shape of what you would expect to see in a diamond ring. All in all, a very interesting field trip!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Etsha 13!

As the title of this post suggests, I will be moving to the village of Etsha 13 after I swear in as a Peace Corps Volunteer! I have no clue why there is a number in the name, but I do know that the village is small and on the Okavanga Delta. This means several things for me:

1.       I will be living among some real fantastic wildlife. Think elephants and hippos. Walking around outside my village is risky.  
2.       Much of Botswana is desert, but I will be living on one of, if not the, largest inland delta in the world. It’s a more lush part of the country and I can get fresh seafood! No small feat for a land-locked country.
3.       I will be working in a clinic, which I had to fight for so I am very excited. It is a small clinic serving a rural community and is staffed by four nurses, one layperson, and a health educator.  There are also opportunities to work with a primary school, a basket weaving group, and a dance troupe.
4.       I have heard several different things about my housing, from my country director, my counterpart, my program coordinator, and rumors from volunteers who shadowed in the area…. so I am just going to wait and see. But everything I have heard is awesome. And I will have cell phone service so I should be able to figure out something with the internet, woot!
5.       Getting in and out of my village should be relatively easy. There is a major-ish road with buses that come through fairly regularly, which means getting a hitch should be pretty easy too. This means that I can travel to the five other volunteers on that road with relative ease, and get to Maun (a city with four Bots 12 volunteers) within a few hours.  It’s a pretty small village though, so I will probably be doing my grocery shopping in one of the larger neighboring villages or potentially Maun. I’m really excited that I get to live the village life! Many volunteers are sent to more populated regions and don’t have that ‘traditional Peace Corps Experience.’

This is about all I know, but I am really excited about all of it. If I could have picked my region, the delta would have been it. Even my host family even said it was the best of area of the country. Plus, I’m just so thankful to be working in a clinic and I have some intriguing opportunities for side projects.  That’s not to say that I am not nervous; isolation and integration into the community are always nerve wracking, many of the people I have become close with will be on the opposite side of the country along with the majority of the other volunteers, and I am still not exactly sure what my amenities will be like. Regardless, I’m going into what I anticipate to be the most challenging part of this experience feeling like I can handle it J

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Countdown to Site Announcement!

We find out our site placements on FRIDAY! After a month of waiting in country, and a year out of it, I will know where I will spend the next two years of my life in TWO DAYS. We are going all over the country, will have varying amenities, village sizes, etc and everything about site placements are full of pros and cons (pretty much like everything in Peace Corps). Before we arrive in country, Peace Corps has sites picked out for each of us. They don’t tell us until now because things can change drastically in this first month; some people ET (early terminate and go home), some sites fall through, they realize the original invitation is not appropriate, health issues come up, really the possibilities are endless for why things need to be changed up.

I have been preparing myself for the very least- no electricity, running water, and being at least two hours from any other volunteer. Odds are that this won’t be the case, but it is very likely that I will be without at least one of these amenities or that I will be far from other volunteers. I am expecting the worst and hoping for the best, but I really lucked out by just being in Botswana. Many PCVs worldwide would not have any of this as an option and it is truly one of the safest places in the world that Peace Corps could have sent me. Plus, there is no such thing as a perfect site. Often what we think would be the best region or crucial resources or what size village we want or whatever else is nothing like we expect it to be. I am trying to keep myself without assumptions or expectations, and I really hope that I can make the best out of whatever I end up with. Plus, I’ve gotten the hang of bucket bathing and my hair is the longest it has been in the past few years, although I think it helps that I can go about 4 days without washing it ;)

I am also less worried about my site placement because I have worked out one of my main concerns in the past few days. I haven’t gone into too much detail over my problems at site because there were many variables up in the air, but I am happy to report that my position has been worked out! For a little back story, I came to Botswana with the idea that I would be working with health education focusing on HIV/AIDS but involving a variety of topics. When I arrived, I realized that my ideas were not matching up to my job title and that my experiences and interests put me more in line with the position of a Community Capacity Builder. I immediately mentioned this to Peace Corps staff and long story short, the issue was brought up several times over the past few weeks and after being a very squeaky wheel in need of grease, I was switched. This means that I will be placed in clinic as opposed to an NGO/non-profit that might be health based where I would be helping the organization as a whole. It also means that I will most likely be placed in government housing which is often a bit nicer (although not always, so I still can’t assume anything) and I will be more rural, which are both more than fine with me. I am just very relieved that I will not have to worry about balancing my primary assignment with what I actually want to do! I am much more flexible with the rest of my placement and I am just excited to finally know the details!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Shadow Week!

Rachael's super cute round house

                                            Condom water balloon toss with the PACT club

I spent the last week shadowing Rachael, a current PCV, in her village of Morwamosu. I experienced the village life for the week; only about 600 people make up Morwamosu and she lives in a small round house without running water. It was also a much-needed break from the daily grind of PST and a glimpse into what I will get to do myself in a few weeks. It was a really fabulous and well-balanced week with amazing food (we ate pizza twice! Woot), interesting workshops, a braii (the Botswana version of a bbq) with Batswana, and time with other volunteers.

But what everyone actually wants to hear- I saw my first African wild animal! As I was on the bus ride out to Morwamosu, I hadn’t seen anything interesting and by Friday I was getting disappointed when I still had yet to see anything besides donkeys and cattle. I was just telling Rachael this, when 10 minutes later our hitch (more on this later) nearly runs over a baby ostrich and it’s family! The ostriches were unharmed, but I got a real close glimpse of the giant birds.

So don’t freak out mom and dad, but I also gained more experience in the art of hitchhiking last week. While not technically endorsed by Peace Corps, hitch hiking is often a big part of transport for PCVs in Botswana as the cost of gasoline is so high and public transportation is inconsistent and only occurs in brief time windows. Rather than giving the thumbs up one sees all over American media, which actually signifies that you don’t need a ride, you just kind of flap your hand at the wrist.  If the driver can’t/won’t take you he or she will make one of several types of hand signals back, which I have yet to figure out. After last week, hitching has become my favorite form of transportation because it was often much quicker than the bus and I had way more space than in the crowded combis and buses. While there are certainly things to watch out for (mainly unsafe vehicles and drunk driving), you can always turn a hitch down and wait for the next car to go by. Although the wait time on less travelled roads is long, as I learned trying to go about 20km between villages. Rachael and I waited several hours for a hitch only to have it get snagged by some guys who only had waited about half an hour… needless to say I don’t think I will let another long awaited hitch slip by me that easily again.

Along with hitching and ostriches, my favorite highlight of shadow week was the PACT workshop I attended in another village. Rachael was assisting another volunteer with the workshop in her village so I had the opportunity to attend and help a little. It was so nice and refreshing to see PCVs at work; I was able to translate all of the tedious training activities into real life. The workshop centered on health and life skills in a school, with what I guess were 10 to 13 year olds. Those kids were amazing. We arrived at the school and they had the classroom ready to go and they were eager to be there as well.  And then we had this question box- which I don’t know if anyone remembers having that in middle school or whatever, but all anyone put in there was jokes, but these kids had the best questions about all sorts of topics. I was so impressed! While I’m sure that those kids were great to begin with, it’s also encouraging to see the impact the PCV had on her community. Seeing stuff like that is the reason I joined Peace Corps. Sure, filling up over 100 lubed condoms with water for a balloon toss was fun, but sorting through those kids’ questions about topics such as gender, sexual health, puberty, leadership, etc was amazing, especially knowing that along with the other PCVs and Batswana in the room we would be answering them and getting these kids comfortable with the topics. I’m so thankful for my shadowing experience; it was  a great break from training but I am more ready than ever to finally learn about my site… only a few more weeks until I get my own village!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fun stuff

While trainees do spend most days stuck inside the Education Center, we do occasionally get out and around, well, at least before dark. This next week will be the biggest adventure thus far; we actually get to leave Kanye and travel on our own. We will be shadowing a current volunteer, and mine is in the village about three hours away. It’s about three hours away by bus, so not as far as some of the trainees going to the other side of the country, but I’m still really looking forward to going on Monday. 

Other interesting things that I have done beyond the training classroom include:

We met the Kgosi, or chief, of our local ward. There was a lot of Setswana but we had a translator and a chance to ask some questions about the Kgosi’s role, especially relating to HIV/AIDS.

I have been to a few different churches with my host family members, and it is pretty different from the US. There is a lot of dancing and a lot of singing and a whole bunch of fire-y yelling speakers. But the choirs are crazy good. Some volunteers have been put on the spot but I have managed to avoid that so far.

I have also been to a funeral in Botswana, which was a pretty interesting experience. I have only been to one of the 10 or so that my host mother has been to, which may relate to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the importance of community here. Funerals are huge here, everyone comes. I missed the food portion to go to another church service followed by a prayer meeting where this super old guy just stared at the lekoga in the room trying to speak Setswana, but I heard  that a entire cow was slaughtered, and eaten to the intestines.

Most of the food is pretty basic, but I have come across some pretty interesting stuff. Goat, chicken liver, chicken feet, and these worm things pictured are pretty interesting.

Today, we did permagardening which was really interesting. Botswana is super dry so we got some really good suggestions on how to get things to grow in this environment. We’re doing sessions on composting in a few weeks too! Can’t wait.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Trainee

So what exactly am I doing in Botswana? I am still not an official Peace Corps Volunteer, which I know sounds strange to anyone who knows about my application process. I am a trainee, and on June 12 (which is also my dad’s birthday, the day I graduated, and the day that I will close service in Bots and head home in 2014… weird, right?!) I will swear in as US Peace Corps Volunteers. 

Training is a pretty intense period of service though. We have training six days a week, with Saturday being a half day. A typical day starts with a 7 am wake up, cornflakes for breakfast with watered down whole milk, another bath, tidying up and heading over to Claire’s house to meet her and Ryan for language in the morning. Her house is like two or so houses behind mine, so it’s nothing too strenuous. Our LCF (language and culture teacher) Gomolemo meets us there and from 830 to 1230 we have language lessons, with a half hour tea break. Batswana love tea. I usually go back to my homestay for lunch, which is often rice/beans/sorghum/ and some kind of stewed veggies. I hang out, wash up, and help cook for about an hour and then head over to the education center, which I am unfairly close to. Most volunteers are anywhere between 30 mins to 2 hours away walking, and I am maybe 15 minutes.

After lunch, we have sessions on safety, HIV/AIDS, cross-culture, keeping ourselves healthy, etc. They often involve a lot of group activities and a lot of discussion. Also, Peace Corps volunteers tend to be the type of people that like to say things in class… thus, there is a lot of talking and someone always has an opinion to share. The sessions can definitely get a bit tedious, especially if they are the ones that require reading from a script from PC headquarters. It’s all good information, but all-day-everyday gets exhausting.
After training, some volunteers will occasionally hit up a tuck shop (think vending machine with people and a small builiding) grab a pineapple Fanta and then head home. Once at home, I am help cook dinner, which is pretty similar to lunch, and wash up. My job in the house generally revolves around dishes, which most days we have running water so it’s not that different then living in college house. Then we watch the South African soaps, including everyone’s favorite, “Generations.” So bad and so good. 

 A word on gender norms in Botswana… it’s pretty damn patriarchal. There is definitely a transition towards gender equality, especially in big cities, but even in my household (my sisters work as an engineer and health worker in Gaborone) I am expected to do household chores such as cooking and cleaning while my host brothers do not. And beyond the house hold, there is no such thing as chivalry sexism. In public events such as Kogtla meetings, funerals etc women give up chairs for men, men are always greeted first, men eat first etc.  It’s been a source of frustration for me (and many other volunteers) but it has also led to some really good conversations with my host brothers about gender roles. My personal favorite happened with my host brother and, well some guy at his church, who came up to me with the fairly typical “I love you and want to marry you.”Current PCVs told us to make a joke about it, so I responded with “You don’t want to marry me… I would not cook or clean for you! Just ask Mpi, I am not like that.” Mpi was cracking up and in agreement with me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Homestay

So I am doing my 2 month training in Kanye, a town outside of Gaborone (the biggest city and capital). My new Batswana host family includes Kaelo, a Motswana mother and her two sons Mpi and Thapelo (in their late 20s/early 30s). They live on the compound with us (pictured above), while Kaelo has several other children living in Gaborone now. Cousins also seem to come and go, as there is a 12 year old girl who is full of sass here now, but is going back to school soon. I think. I’ve also met several other members of their family who ask me some basic questions in Setswana, which I fumbled through, they laugh, I laugh and then they resume talking about the lekoga (the non-African) and other things in Setswana. It’s been pretty fun though, in general the Batswana are really sociable and friendly and we spend a lot of time laughing. My family, especially the brothers, speak English so we can communicate outside of playing charades.

For all of those who have ever lived with me or just made fun of my bathing habits…. In my first weekend at the home stay, I have already been told I need to ‘bath,’ not bathe, twice a day. I saw this one coming, but hoped that I would be able to avoid it for at least a little longer. Right off the bat my host mom, Kaelo, asked me if I wanted to bath again. No thanks, I replied hoping that would be the end of it, at least for a few days. No go though, she pressed on, with all the assorted family in the room roaring with laughter and disgust. Sigh, “here people bath twice a day, right?” “YES.” Okay, Kaelo. You win. I’ll bath twice a day. I am going to see how long I can go without washing my hair though. That is significantly less fun with a bucket instead of a showerhead.
Actually being here though, I can see the reason behind the twice daily cleansing. My feet are filthy, and while it’s getting colder now (think 80s, some of the time, 90s other days, which the Batswana are bundled up in coats and blankets, thinking I’m crazy in my T-Shirt) there is still a fair amount of sweat, dust, and bug repellent that comes up. Still, I think a night time bath makes more sense to me.  But, in the spirit of cultural immersion, I will be succumbing to the twice a day bathing, at least until I am at site. I already want to chop my hair off though.
Other First Impressions:
-Song and dance have already broken out twice during the Peace Corps/Host family activities. YES. Hopefully I’ll learn a little while I am here, the Batswana can
-I have indoor, hot water and electricity in my homestay. Definitely wasn’t expecting that. It also means my host family watches Btv (Botswana TV) and SATV (South Africa) all of the time. They also have two tvs playing two different shows at once, side by side. Even if only one person is watching tv. I don’t think this is typical though.
-My Setswana name is Lorato, which means Love. I think it’s a nice name, although I confuse people with three names now.
-Roosters/donkeys/mystery animals suck. I was beyond tired when I went to bed last night, and I still woke up about five times during the middle of the night to them making animal noises. We had been warned, but I am going to need to find some ear plugs.
- Some of the rooms do not have finished ceilings, such as my bedroom. This means that every sound echoes off the tin roof and back into my bedroom from the rest of the house. No secrets here.
- It’s quite a bit greener then I was expecting. None of the trees are tall, but there is a lot of shrubbery.
-I’m still feeling the bliss :)