Monday, November 18, 2013


So I went to Mozambique. It was awesome.

Highlights include: sitting on the beach, eating a whole lotta seafood, seeing a giant leatherback sea turtle, swimming with whale sharks, five dollar fancy cocktails, and relaxing. 

Lowlights: The truly absurd amount of bus travel it took to get there and getting money stolen. Worth it. 

Photographic Evidence of a Real Good Time:
Night sky on our nightly walk back!
We made prawn and calamari curry! 
Our first seafood meals, the first of many.
Fishing nets on the Indian Ocean
We made friends and took him up on an offer to make traditional Mozambican food. The family had piglets! SO excited!
Ready to eat some delicious seafood and matapa!
Learning to open and shave a coconut!
We saw a leatherback sea turtle on the beach! Even the turtle researcher in the area had never seen one like this before.
Hanging out in Inhambane
Enjoying the warm waters of the Indian Ocean!
Snorkeling with whale sharks! SO COOL! We swam next the world's largest fish, no one had a camera that could go underwater but here's some more info on the giant fish:
Feeling five dollar fancy with cocktails!
(Caveat: some of the photos are mine, several of them are borrowed from my travel companions)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Not Your Average Girl's Weekend

While describing the weekend I spent in the bush with four incredible women is fairly straightforward, processing everything that happened and articulating everything I felt during that weekend is not.
The ladies and Xena on the floodplain
The courageous ladies and I rented an automatic Hilux and ventured into Savuti and Khwai, in Chobe and Moremi Game Reserves, respectively on a self drive safari.This time of year, Savuti is one of the most incredible places I have ever been (I was also there last year with my mom; the experience inspired last weekend). As I mentioned in my previous post, Botswana is an inferno right now. Everything is dry so animals flock to water, such as the Savuti Marsh. We saw incredible wildlife, and the weekend out in the bush challenged my companions and me in ways we thought it might as well as in ways we had no idea to expect. Aimee and I had done extensive research on how to this trip; we had no desire to become a sensationalized news story on five young women who disappeared, presumed to have been eaten by lions. We were warned of deep sand roads, where to watch for water crossings, to carry plenty of fuel and then some, to haul in our own drinking water, to make sure to have the tents completely zipped up (because curious animals may want a look), that if you do get stuck, to not under any circumstances to wander from the vehicle, and to bring shovel, because digging your truck out of the sand with a cooler box is no fun. I may or may not have compiled a very nerdy document full of safety information and tips. 

So, with plenty of fuel, water, and a last minute tossing out of an orange (elephants really like oranges, to the point of trying to get into your car to get them), we set off. We found the roads to be far kinder than expected, though full of bumps and I'm still glad I did so much research on driving in sand! The incredible sightings began early- within 15 minutes of entering the reserve, we see a pride of lions hanging out near the road! The rest of the drive did not disappoint, with plenty of elephants, giraffe, and other game. From there we set up and went back out on a game drive to the marsh, with stunning results.

After the first water crossing!
The first day was full of magic. Everything went as well as it could have; we spent time sitting on the marsh just overwhelming happy, handled the sandy roads with ease. A friendly guide in another vehicle even convinced me to drive through a fairly shallow water crossing to see a leopard on the other side (before leaving, I had decided we were just not going to mess with water. Throw a leopard in and guide who tells you 'Ah, that crossing is dry!' to encourage you and you feel like you could make it through a river). When we got back to camp, we were making dinner when we saw wild dogs (highly endangered!) across the stream. We watched them play for about 15 minutes; it was incredible to see them romp around like your own dog would. 

After such an enchanting first day, we were feeling pretty confident. We hadn't even come close to getting stuck; in fact, we hardly even needed four wheel drive. We had seen really incredible things in an 8 hour period. We had crossed water and bumpy, sandy roads with no problem in our tough Hilux, which we had dubbed Xena, Warrior Princess. We needed the reality check Day Two was to provide. 

The leopard print is circled...
and inches from the tent.
We awoke to sniffing noises in the early morning and then leopard prints, inches from the tents (actually pretty neat as opposed to frightening, as long as the tent is fully closed, creatures will not bother you). We continued on to yet another lion sighting, this time a pride munching on a fresh breakfast along the river. From there, we moved on towards the marsh. We came across another water crossing, and full of confidence, spent a short time discussing whether or not we should cross and see what all the cars on that side were watching. We eyed the depth, decided it was probably okay, and all leaned towards just going for it. Luckily, another safari vehicle (coincidentally driven by the guide who had taken out my mom and I) was coming our way, so we decided to sit back and see how it did. Well, as my foreshadowing suggests, there was no way we could have made that water crossing without a snorkel. There was a hole in the middle, which we would have hit and probably flooded the engine. There were several things that went wrong on this trip, but that was the easily the most stupid thing we did. So with our egos in check and a very important lesson learned, we continued on, in the opposite direction, to view more incredible game that morning. 

During our afternoon drive, things got a little more interesting again. About 15 minutes in, we came up on some elephants close to the road. Certainly, we are not elephant experts, but I have been around many of the giants, sometimes very close, without them minding. As long as you’re respectful and go by at a moderate speed, they're usually okay with you, especially in the parks. These elephants did mind how close we were though, as we had unknowingly split them on either side of the road. So, in what felt like five minutes but was likely only a few seconds, we saw the matriarch (that's a guess) get all sorts of irritated and we hurried on our way past them, looking back to see her charging after us! In the charge itself, everything happened so quickly we didn't have much time to react, but it was when we came up against another herd of elephants crossing the road that our anxiety surged, building off each other. We crossed two more groups slowly, awkwardly, and full of anxiety before making it down to the marsh, where we promptly sat and discussed our feelings about the event (some parts remained of a stereotypical 'girl's weekend'). Discussion made it better; we were able to see elephants without cringing... well, for the most part. 

On the Marsh, with several herds of elephants around us (black specks)... when they no longer incited anxiety.
Savuti was kind to us the rest of the weekend, giving us another leopard sighting, a beautiful, juvenile male lion at sunset, BABY LION CUBS, four adult full mane lions (thanks to a friend we saw out there, he led us through three water crossings to get there!), and another leopard, which we spotted walking from across a water crossing that we weren't entirely sure where we had gone through, and again, all it took was a leopard to make me courageous.

Viewpoint for the Hippo Pool
From Savuti, we made our way to Khwai, an area in Moremi National Park. Again, we had been told to expect deep sand; not so much, though just a few confusing points in navigation, which with the help of several maps, a GPS, and finally, confirming by asking directions (to play into stereotypes- another benefit of an all women trip, no issues with asking for directions), we made it to Khwai after a sketchy bridge crossing and a few more animal sightings. Our time in Khwai had some surprises in store for us, the most notable being the fact that our rental car company had given us a flat spare tire. But I'll get to that; first, the crew took a drive out to the hippo pool, about 20km away from camp. We saw hippos, baby zebra, and some goofy horned creatures; it was a lovely ending to our adventure. Unfortunately, the um, most adventurous aspect of the trip was yet to come.

Our badly degraded tire in the morning light... but, we
made it back and saved the rim. 
About 15 minutes and 10km till camp, around 530pm, we clipped the side of a large fallen branch, resulting in a flat. A bit stressful so close to dark and at the end of the trip, but certainly nothing we couldn't handle. We expected a flat on this trip, so when it happened, Tate jumped out of the car, ready for her moment to shine (she had read up during the drive where everything was in the car... she was prepared). Aimee and Tate took charge of the tire, and all seemed good to go. Around half an hour until complete darkness we begin lowering the jack... And our stomachs drop with it. The spare tire is completely flat. The sun is about down. There have been numerous cat sightings today. Without much time to panic, we all jump back in the car, and decide to see if we can go really slowly on the flat without riding on the rim. We realize in about 30 seconds, we can’t. We have about 20 minutes of daylight left, and we're forced to make a decision: Do we sleep (well, try to sleep) in the car tonight, with the cooler in the back, and hope we don't attract anything unwanted (most likely just monkeys that would bother us… but…) and wait till someone finds us in the morning? Or do we try to change the tire back, which is punctured in such a way that it could probably, maybe, hopefully protect the rim to get back to camp? We decide that while there is a chance to do something about it, we might as well. I have only seen one person change a tire faster than we did the second time around and I do not know if I can put into words the relief we all felt once that tire was changed and we were all back in the car. I take over in the driver’s seat, and Aimee has her head out the window, keeping a close eye on the tire, while the women in the back take over navigation, making sure we don't make a terrible wrong turn through the unmarked and now-dark roads. Crawling at about 2km/hr, it takes a two and a half long hours to get the 10km back to camp. We could have walked faster, except for the whole lions, leopards, and hyenas thing. We kept an eye out for animal eyes (and we're a bit disappointed we didn't see hyena… well in the morning, after we had slept back at camp, and were safely on the road home), a close eye on the steadily degrading tire, and dodged a staggering number of potholes that threatened to rip the tire away from the rim. But, we made it, saved the rim, and left the spare tire in a condition that it could be repaired so we could make it back to Maun. We were a little traumatized... but also left with the feeling that we were able to handle a lot, that we were pretty tough, and that the weekend was full of accomplishment. 

Throughout this trip, gender roles were on my mind. In planning, we were asked, "Now, you girls are bringing men with you, right?" (that gem is from the guy who also told me it was exceedingly sandy… false.). To be fair, many people thought we would be just fine, and I did have my own doubts about our capabilities as well. This wasn't your average girl's weekend- we took on roles that girls aren't always encouraged to do, and thus didn't have some experience that others might. Yet, we managed just fine (thank you) and we didn't have to abandon traditionally feminine roles either; there were plenty of awws over baby animals and campsite discussions on feelings. This trip made me recognize how lucky I am to be in a position in which I can talk about how a charging elephant made me feel, while also having the knowledge, skills, and confidence in both to aid the group in getting out of a sticky situation involving a tire. It was really, really nice to move beyond some outdated, predetermined box set of roles and explore and test just what five young women were capable of, a little outside of our comfort zones. 

With that, here are some more of my favorite wildlife photos from the trip:

We saw what felt like thousands of buffalo and elephants on the marsh!
They're just such goofy animals.
Pretty leopard sitting in a tree
We watched a pack of wild dogs playing from our campsite!
Elephant on the Savuti Marsh.
Very thankful for a friend's guidance and suggestions leading to four full mane lions!
Lion cubs... doesn't get much cuter!

*most of the pictures are mine, but thanks to go my travel companions for some of the group shots :)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


October in the States means crunchy leaves, scarves and boots for crisp air, rain, Duck football, pumpkins,
and halloween. Oddly enough, in the southern hemisphere some of my typical October identifiers remain; I still follow football and we have plenty of crisp and orange leaves, but that is where the similarities end.

October in Botswana means unrelenting 100+ degree days. Constant sweat dripping, a near inability to walk anywhere far from 10am-3pm, lots of sunscreen, walking around with an umbrella to protect myself from the intense rays (I swear I am getting wrinkles here), sleeping on top of the sheets to the whir of my fan, and cold bucket baths... sometimes twice a day for a little oh-so-sweet relief from the incessant heat. It also means nearly everything is dried up, and much of what remains green is poisonous to livestock, so they walk into houses in search of food if you're not paying attention. It means the bugs return in full force, from the mosquitoes to the drone of the cicadas. Oh, and the snakes come back out.

Not everything October brings means an increase in my general discomfort. Many of the trees seem to be bursting with purple flowers among all of the dried and crunchy bush surrounding them.

At least everyone says the rain is coming early this year. Plus, I have plenty of fun planned to escape (or take advantage of) the heat this summer!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

All I wanted for my birthday...

Was to catch a croc. 

Checking that off my Botswana bucket list!

Monster Catch Up Entry

This is going to be a blog in three parts (and sub-parts), and will mainly contain pictures because I've had a pretty incredible time since my last post, but I don't really want to write that much and most of you don't want to read that much. So, here it goes...


Aimee and I went to Kasane, met up with some wonderful people, ate some delicious Indian food, and saw a bunch of elephants. Also, I held some snakes. And we got a hitch from an overlander, which for those of you not in Botswana, are those giant tourist trucks that look like small buildings for people to come and live out of for several weeks at a time and trek across several countries. They are ridiculous and never pick up hitch hikers, so that was weird and awesome.


The Most Ridiculously Crazy, Fun, Three Weeks EVER
(Part I) So America is a pretty neat place, Oregon especially. It's also super awesome when two of your favorite people in the whole world get married to each other and your entire family is together for the first time in a long time and somehow the majority of your other college friends can make it into the Portland metro area and the Portland Brewer's Festival is happening and it's summer in the Pac NW (which is pretty much the best thing ever in itself). It was a whirlwind of food, beer, coffee, water, sunshine, and love. See photographic proof below:
Sushi and sisters.
McAlister & Friends Reunited.
Oregon Brewers Festival.
Bridal Party! YAY!
Paddle Boarding on Detroit Lake
(Part II) Also ridiculously awesome was that I spent the following week here:
Obligatory Eiffel Tower stop.
I'm still not entirely sure what they put on escargo, but it is ridiculously delicious.
Drinking wine along the Seine.
Rough life.

Returning to Botswana:
(Part I) AWA, or Africa Wins Again describes my return travel in which I discovered that an hour and a half is not a long enough lay over to get through the Joburg airport. So, my trip back to site was far more expensive and far less comfortable than I was expecting... AWA. Luckily, I had some really great projects to jump right into, which brings me to:

(Part II) Special Olympics is a project my friend Lindsey in Maun has been working on for quite some time, and Etsha 13 had a team going down. I was able to jump right into the prep work for our youth, my favorite part being training with the kids each morning leading up to the event. I'm not sure if I have ever been a part of such a joyful project. A great day with the kids, facilitators, and my fellow PCVs and a perfect way to jump back into my work.

PCVs involved.

Enjoying the races.

Some of the kids involved (those in black Choppies jerseys are from Etsha!)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

You Know You're Back in the Village When....

I recently returned from a week in Gaborone for my Mid-Service Training with the rest of my Bots 12 intake group. To summarize I'll quote my friend Tate; at one point she leaned over and asked, "Do you also feel like you've been a part of a 48 hour therapy session?" Along with a whole lot of talking through our feelings (okay, it was actually kind of nice to assess my own and hear from other PCVs), we exchanged best practices and spent quality time catching up. But now I'm back in my village, and after a week in the city, a few things stand out. You can tell you're back in the village when:

5. Your hair is dirty because after a week of hot showers, bucket bathing and washing your hair in the cold is no fun.

4. The people and children around you are screaming 'Lorato' instead of 'Lekgoa.'.

3. You hear gun shots, meaning there will be meat hanging under a tree in the afternoon.

2. You forget your groceries in a hitch and your driver was incredibly kind, went out of his way to track you down on his return trip to Maun two days later to give them back to you.

1. That driver was also easily able to find you and your house in which to drop the food, with only the name of your village.

It's good to be back in Etsha 13.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Life is Sweet, Man

About a year ago, Aimee and I were hitch-hiking down to our In-Service Training.  After a very long wait, we were finally picked up by a Rastafarian trucker. Now I've since learned that hitching in big rigs can add hours and hours to your trip- this lesson learned during this ride to Gabs. And yet, what started out as as a slow hitch south eventually turned into a hilariously insightful trip and one of the most memorable rides I've had in Botswana. We were left with the advice "Life is sweet, man, life is sweet." And a year later, life is feeling very sweet, indeed.

My projects are going really well! Activities I have been pushing for months are not just 'happening,' but the participants have been actively engaged in discussions and visible progress is being made!

JSS PACT Club Girls and me with our identity collages 

JSS PACT Club: My Junior School PACT Club has really come together- the past few meetings the group has connected and all of the girls are active participants in conversations and activities. Further, we've been tackling increasingly challenging issues lately, and the girls have been responding thoughtfully. The previous term I was lucky if the meetings even happened at all, so this change has been so exciting to see! Plus, we've been having a lot of fun hanging out before and after meetings!

Voices of the Community: The women's group that my fellow PCVs and I have been working with for months has not only been very active, they've been drawing in new members, old members are now the ones doing the training sessions we originally taught them, and PCVs aren't the ones driving the meetings forward. The members have also become a fantastic resource the community; the group has been approached by individuals in need of advocacy while maneuvering through a convoluted legal system! I can't wait to see what this group can do next. 
I love this photo! Voices celebrating a successful project with a braii (bbq)

Teenage Pregnancy Prevention: Over a weekend, the team at the junior secondary school and I managed to talk to nearly every student out of the 800+ enrolled about teenage pregnancy prevention. The schools start their six week break at the end of June; year after year, 9 months after these breaks the school sees several students dropping out due to pregnancy. We split the youth into small groups and just cycled through presentations regarding the implications of teenage pregnancy, delaying sexual debut, condom use, and contraception. Most of the students were active participants in the discussions and willing to demonstrate condom use or explain another form of contraception to their peers, so hopefully the Etsha JSS will see fewer dropouts due to pregnancy next term!

World Tobacco Free Day: My clinic and I put together a community event for the global commemoration. This was a project that seemed to fall into pieces, up until the last minute when everything came together- and managed to draw a large crowd! Even without snacks, a solid group met to march through the village singing and holding posters depicting the dangers of tobacco use, drawing hundreds to the kgotla where we delivered a health talk and skit encouraging the community to be tobacco free.

And I can't say my life has been all work and no play! My weekends have been full with some pretty incredible experiences lately.

Hippos on the way to Jao
Jao: My village is largely made up of two ethnic groups: Bayeii and Hambukushu. The 13 Etsha villages were built as settlements for Angolan refugees in the 1970s, many of them Hambukushu (though Hambukushu also lived in this area previously). The Bayeii people are people of the delta, and have gradually moved in towards the Etshas to have access to medical care, schools, and shops. My friend Jamie's research is centered around access to natural resources and I could (and probably will at some point) write an entire post about what she has learned about the Etshas. To keep it brief, I was accompanied her to Jao Island, where many Bayeii people living in Etsha consider their home village. It's a beautiful hour boat ride through the heart of the delta, past countless tiny islands and through both lagoons and narrow channels. 

Backing up in preparation of our 'flight'
This photo may not look like anything too interesting, but the papyrus had moved to block the channel (papyrus, the plant in the photo, actually floats along the water rather than growing out of islands). Ishmael, our driver, said to us "Alright girls, so the island has moved to block the channel, we're going be flying over the papyrus!" We assumed he was joking, as last time we had managed to push the plant blockage out of the way, but he wasn't. We actually backed the boat up and 'flew' the boat over top the island and continued on our way. 

Once out at Jao, we spoke with village elders, including a 100 year old man, fishermen, and saw the beautiful village nestled among the delta reeds. We also went out to a few fishing posts, including one built around a termite mound island! It was incredible to see more of the culture I’m living among.
Tent atop a carved termite mound. Most creative set up I've seen!

Enjoying sunset on the lagoon (photo credit to Jamie)
Guma Lagoon Camp: While my dad was visiting, he wasn't too keen on roughing it in Etsha, so I decided to send them to the lodge just outside my village. We ended up making friends, so Aimee, Jamie and I decided to head out there again! We soaked up a little bit of sunshine by their pool, enjoyed the view of the lagoon, took ample advantage of their hot showers, and took a boat ride out for sundowners. Oh, and Aimee was nearly run over by a hippo chomping his way to the fancy grass to the pool (only the deadliest animal in Africa, no big deal). 

So metal.

Ghanzi Metal Fest: One of the most interesting sub-cultures I’ve come across, Botswana is home to the aptly named ‘metal cowboys.' They don leather chaps, studded cowboy hats and chains, and listen to the likes of Slipknot, Iron Maiden, and some Batswana versions of metal music. As one of the most unexpected forms of Botswana culture, of course some PCVs and I had to check it out. 

Next week I'm headed to Gaborone for my In-Service Training. This is the last of the mid-milestones to cross; I'm past the one year mark, past the halfway mark, past the one year as a PCV (as opposed to a trainee) mark. Over the past month or so, I've noticed a significant shift in my attitude about living in Botswana. This feels like 'real life,' rather than something I'm just passing through, and it's a really fabulous real life to be living. Water outages, electricity 'brown outs,' bugs, cold, heat... have become manageable, easily handled in fact. I remember there was a point where my mood coincided with whether or not the water was on. I had a realization during a run last week that I was actually look forward to kids screaming 'Loraaaaaatoooo' and running with me and the mosadi magolos saying, 'ah! next time I will come with you!' These things originally prevented me from wanting to run in the village and used to drive me crazy during my 'me time.' I have less than a year left, and suddenly it feels like my time here is moving too quickly.