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!