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.