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!