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 :)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Beginning

I have officially been on Botswana soil for a full 24 hours!  I am moved into my home-stay, I have a cell phone, I know the names of most of my intake group (there are over 40 of us) although the names of my host family are not coming so easily…

Even though the flights were extensive and I was saying goodbye to a whole lot, I found myself remaining continually positive and freak-out free. The positive and excited feelings grew the closer I got to Botswana, even running on about 7 hours of bus/plane/airport sleep over three days I still had energy and excitement.  I have no doubt that this will catch up to me, but I’m seeing this as encouragement that I have made the right decision in joining the Peace Corps. Before leaving, I kept feeling as though I wasn’t prepared to make this journey or that I hadn’t actually thought the whole thing out because I hadn’t suffered a major freak out about spending the next 26 months on the other side of the world (with the exception of the Saturday, but I was much more based on stress about seeing everyone I love before I left and managing to get my 80 pounds of stuff underweight and in one piece to the airport over moving to Africa for two years). Now don’t get me wrong, I definitely had moments of doubt but, I was able to squash them within a few seconds. And I definitely cried leaving my parents in the airport. But it wasn’t the freak-out-oh-my-god-what-am-i-doing-turn-back-now type of panic, it was mainly sadness, but not regret, over leaving my life in the US behind. 

I can say that as of week one away from home… I couldn’t be happier to be here. I’m feeling that the long application, packing and goodbyes feel like they will be worth it. Being in Botswana seems really ‘right,’ as corny as that sounds. And, I can drink water from the tap… woot for no bottled water!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Staging, and the Transportation Hell to Come

In describing staging, the words tired, excited, extensive, and informative come to mind. There has been very little sleep, a lot of introductions, group activities, and our last American food and drink (so far I've been a little disappointed in the beer options in Philly, I had a terribly weak IPA and a weird amber, but maybe I'm not looking in the right places). I've really enjoyed meeting all 44 of the other Bots 12 volunteers! I'm so excited to be working with such a diverse group of people of different ages, hometowns, and experiences.

And now, we're truly off to Botswana! Transportation hell to include: 3 am, bus ride to JFK. If without delay, there will be several hours between our arrival at JFK and the plane taking off on a direct flight to Johannesburg, around 11 am. Six hour layover in Johannesburg, and finally, a quick flight to Gaborone. We'll be put up in a lodge there for the night. The next morning, we will head to Kanye, the village where I will go through Pre-Service Training.

I will be without much internet access for the first couple of weeks, but my next post will be from Botswana! Love to all of my friends and family!

Side note: Apologies if this post is terrible. I'm writing it at 130 am from Philly... no sleep till the bus!


As I am currently on a plane heading to Philadelphia for staging, I guess it is about time for the inaugural blog post! Without a doubt, the past few weeks have certainly been a whirlwind of time with friends and family, long showers, the Magical World of Harry Potter, cheese, craft beer, Thai food and frantic packing. I have managed to feel what seems like a bagillion emotions at once; a whole lot of excitement, stress, anxiety, and sadness about leaving for so long. Obviously, the goodbyes that took place over the last few weeks were not much fun, especially when my parents (and Kate!) dropped me off at PDX. My mom, who I have seen cry fewer times than I could count on one hand, was crying. So if she cries, we all cry. Once I stopped crying (mainly by passing out after a very long weekend) I was excited again, because it’s finally here… the beginning of my Peace Corps journey!

I’ve noticed that most of my friends and family have asked me similar questions and this seems like a good forum to answer those questions. In order of which they are most often asked: Yes, Botswana is in southern Africa. It is a landlocked country that borders South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.  As for the weather, it’s a very sunny country so I will likely be missing the Oregon rain, well, eventually. Coming off winter I think I’m going to enjoy the sunshine for awhile. Since Botswana is in the southern hemisphere, their seasons are opposite. I get to experience winter twice! I’m told it will be pretty chilly.

I will be working as an NGO Capacity Building Volunteer; the details are still foggy though. After Pre-Service Training, our skills and community needs will be assessed and we will receive our placements. I will be mainly working on HIV/AIDS related issues, as Botswana has the second highest HIV rate in the world.  I will also have flexibility to work on secondary projects as well.

As for the logistics, the duration of service is generally 27 months, although I’ve heard that my program has only two months of training instead of three. The first two or three months are spent in training in the village of Kanye, outside of the c­apital Gaborone. During this time I will be staying with a host family, but once I receive my placement, I will be living in my own house in another village. I may or may not have running water in the house, electricity, or regular internet access, and I could be fairly near other volunteers or I could be the only volunteer in the area. And yes, Botswana does have those “Lion King” type animals, lions, hippos, zebras etc. I will have some time off to travel and see them.

Whew, I think that covers most of the questions I have been asked over (and over) again for the past few months. I really appreciate all of the questions, love and support I have received from everyone! Thank you all so much, it really does make leaving for so long much easier. Hopefully I will have some sort of semi-consistent internet access over the next two years, but either way I would love emails, Facebook messages, letters, and your addresses to send postcards and letters! Go siame America, dumela Botswana!