Thursday, June 12, 2014

Until Next Time.

My last few weeks in Botswana were a whirlwind. There were parties, tears, dancing, chocolate tequila shots, braiis, goat slaughter, chakalaka, baskets, photos, a few squeezed in projects, one last camping trip in the bush, frantic packing and repacking, and lots and lots of cookies (thanks, Becky).

My experience in Botswana was truly everything I hoped it would be. I'm already missing my great big African sky, my kiddos, the ODC, and Etsha 13. 

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."
-A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Things I Know Now

I've been in Botswana for over two years, how crazy is that? Of course living in a small, rural village in a developing country across the world from my home has taught me plenty about myself, Botswana, development, public health, etc etc etc, and so many things that will never be summed in a blog post. But I do love lists, so...

I know:
  • how to make a party cup using an empty pop can and a can opener
  • how to slaughter a chicken (and yes, they do move around quite a bit when their heads are cut off)
  • you don't want to get between a hippo and the water
  • how to get reasonably clean in 1/3 bucket of water
  • zebra is delicious
  • I'd rather love and hate something than be bored and apathetic
  • behavior change is hard
  • how to cook! chowders, hummus, yumm sauce, tortillas, curries, steak, lentils, beans...
  • I will never be able to basket weave
  • what it feels like when an elephant charges you
  • how utterly freeing it is to be the village weirdo
  • that sometimes, you just need to jump off the bridge. 
  • all sorts of ways to use the internet using less data. anyone?
  • flies buzzing around your face are slightly more obnoxious than bug bites on your feet. slightly.
  • all those pretty butterflies love feces and garbage
  • crocs bite
  • it's much easier to have never had something than to have it taken away
  • kids pretty much the same everywhere
  • the art of hitch hiking
  • part of my heart is always going to be in the Okavango

Monday, April 28, 2014

Stomp Out Malaria

One of my projects was highlighted on the Peace Corps 'Stomp Out Malaria' site!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Tsodilo Camp

In January, thirty youth living with HIV and ten facilitators took to Tsodilo Hills for a youth retreat, with content on life skills, healthy living, and plenty of fun. The event went incredibly smooth for a camp in Botswana, and kids and facilitators alike had a great time among the hills and ancient rock paintings. Highlights included sessions on identity, self esteem, maintaining health, and hiking among thousand year old rock paintings. 

Youth seeing the rock paintings of Tsodilo, many for the first time.

One of my favorite comments: It feels like we're on top of the world!

Decorating a tool for medication adherence.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World

In Botswana, most women will experience some form of violence in their lifetimes, and that’s with the amount reported estimated to be about 24 times less than what is actually happening. One in ten girls’ first sexual encounter is rape, and it is not uncommon for teachers to have relationships with students with others turning a blind eye, woman to lose rights to any property if their spouses die. In my short time here, I have heard countless stories of and seen the damage of rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and murder suicides, sensationalized as “passion killings” by the local media.

For a country often herald as the ‘gem of Africa” and whose citizens pride themselves on their peaceful nature, there is staggering amount of violence against women and children and a slew of unhealthy relationship habits to boot.

Cue Voices of the Community, the fledgling group of women and men working together to eliminate violence from relationships in my district. The group ran a 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign; an accomplishment not only in those we reached, but for the juvenile group to run such a large event. The team held a youth day full of art, healthy relationships, and games of course; outreach at the center of town, distributing white ribbons (symbolizing standing up against violence) and discussing GBV with the community; members went to their churches to videos and leading discussions; we held a final closing event that, in spite of an all day downpour and non functional cell phone network, had solid attendance and engaged the audience.

 One of the highlights of a long, frustrating, and satisfying two weeks was the  In Her Shoes activity for government workers, which teaches empathy for those experiencing abuse. This activity provided some of the most wonderful and surprising moments of the 16 days- we had open, nearly tolerant conversations about homosexuality and managed to approach it as a human rights issue, and this in a country where homosexual acts are outlawed. There was also a member of the District AIDS Office that I frequently work with; he is often found feet propped up and newspaper out in the office. Yet for this activity, he actively participated and made meaningful comments about gender, the role of service providers, and wants us to do more of those trainings for other offices.

In spite of all of the running around Gumare in the heat, stressing over transport and whether or not the ribbons would arrive in time, and downpouring rain when you least want it, 16 days is the perfect example of a project coming together (albeit often late and occasionally looking nothing like what you planned) and making it all worth it.

Voices showing off their white ribbons

Youth Day

Our fearless leader on Youth Day

Community outreach

March against gender based violence in Gumare

Blind condom races, always a favorite

The Voices team!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

This & That

I haven’t been the best blogger of late, but here are a few updates on my life and work from the past few months:

Malaria Week:
As rainy season was just beginning in mid November (the time when malaria outbreaks become a risk), the Clinic and I put together a malaria campaign. We held health talks in the morning, hung the net display, and the health volunteer team and I went house to house with a flipchart presentation. I'm always surprised by how few people in my village know that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, in spite of the ability to identify malaria quickly, meaning we had plenty to teach! The event was a great success, reaching around 25 households and engaging patients at the clinic with our display and talks.

Evidence Based Planning
EBP is the week that the stakeholders gather together in a fancy lodge and plan out how to spend our funding for the next two years. It was also one of the most frustrating weeks I have experienced in Botswana. In spite of being put up in a nice hotel room all to myself, complete with aircon, a hot shower, and free meals, I felt as though my teeth were being pulled out, one by one, for most of the week. One of the most challenging aspects of working in Botswana is the bureaucracy; there is protocol for everything, though somehow the proper protocol varies widely depending on who you ask. In addition, EBP is full of people who want to get their ideas funded, badly (myself included). So arguments ensue, the occasional bigot shows her face (in which I actually had to walk out of the room I was so angry about her attempt to deny services to certain groups), and the "evidence" we used is meager at best; but, eventually we created a plan that prioritizes key areas and names potential activities to reach our goals. It was an frustrating and exhausting, but I managed to place numerous Peace Corps driven activities on the agenda for the next two years, so I'm counting it a success. 

World AIDS Day
Always a big commemoration in a country with the second highest rates of HIV in the world, my village and I recognized WAD with an event at the Kgotla (village center). From skits, songs, a fact contest, and some of kids’ HIV-inspired art display, Etsha 13 came together.

Teen Club Christmas Party!
Teen Club is a group I co-facilitate for youth living with HIV, and we had a fun holiday party for the youth complete with parachute games, a plastic Christmas tree, and lots of dance performances. Not your average holiday party, but certainly a memorable one!

How I met the President of Botswana
While at a craft market during December, we were perusing the baskets and baked goods when I heard a “Dumela, Mma,” from behind me. I half-turn around, put my left hand to my elbow, and casually said “Dumela, rra.” With a double take, I realize that the person I just shook hands with was the President of Botswana, apparently out and about Shakawe.

The Holidays
I spent the holidays visiting friends across the country, starting with multiple Thanksgiving celebrations, one in Maun with a real turkey (NOM) and another in Shakawe with the NW Okavango crew, both with incredible food of course. Christmas was magical, full of delicious food, fireworks, and good people, complete with a PCV Santa clad in a leopard print santa hat and a pillow stuffed in her shirt. In spite of ninety degree heat, this year actually felt like Christmas with my Peace Corps family coming from near and far. New Years was spent out at the lodge near my village, with a legitimate fireworks show over the lagoon and somehow managing to make it to watch the sun rise over the water (while at 8:00pm I was worried I wasn’t going to make it until midnight).

Gender Committee 
In mid January, I attended my last official Gender Committee meeting. It was a particularly productive meeting, in which I have an exciting new project for the tail end of my service, involving a country wide activity utilizing some of the copious funding available for gender-based violence projects at the moment. I've really enjoyed my time serving on the PC Botswana committee!

PC Botswana's Gender Committee