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.

Monday, June 3, 2013

American Visitors

My dad and two of his friends came out to Botswana, and here are some of the highlights from their trip:

After a bit of a hold up at customs (thanks for all the beer, dad!), they finally made it through the Maun airport

I swear we were actually really excited about the herd of giraffe behind us, in Nxai Pan/Makgadikgadi National Parks

In front of a massive boabab out a Baines Baobabs, with a salt pan behind us

Dinner with Matt, Bridgette and their American visitors out a friend's game farm!

Catching tiger fish on the Okavango Delta!

We also spent time going to my projects in my village, buying meat from the 'local butcher' under a tree, hauling in water from the river as my water was off, watched a herd of 40+ elephants less than five miles outside my village stomp around the delta, ate game meat, and just generally showed off how amazing this place can be.