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!