Friday, December 6, 2013
In lieu of a heavy blog post about the challenges I am facing here (boring) I thought with school being shut down for the next 5 weeks now is as good a time as ever for a more light-hearted post. So, below, find a list of all the random things that have surprised me since moving to Africa. I'm four months in and it still hasn't subsided.
1. Since day one, I have been drinking tap water wherever I go. I definitely thought I would be filtering my water and steering clear of the tap, but I drink 5 liters of liquid goodness a day (at least) and have yet to face any problems.
2. MOST women here wear sky high heels every day and walk through sand and thorns like it's nothing. They often ask me why I don't wear heels and I tell them that that's a scene I'm not willing to share. They then ask me if my family can ship my high heels for them since I am not using them.
3. I don't see giraffes, lions, zebras and monkeys in my every day life. I have seen one giraffe, a handful of rhinos and a herd of zebra since arriving in country, but most of the wildlife is concentrated up north and I live in the southern region. What I do see every day, however, are more cattle, donkey, chickens and goats than I can count. Simba (my puppy, for those of you who somehow haven't heard me obsess over him yet) plays with donkeys and goats like they are other puppies. I have also had scorpions, lizards, camel spiders, millipedes, and every other insect co-habitating with me.
4. It is completely acceptable to pick your nose here. Mid-conversation, during a presentation, while teaching a class. No shame at all.
5. Being white attracts a lot of attention here. In my village of 5,000 I am the only white person living there. This strikes up conversation everywhere I go. Sometimes, a 5 minute walk takes an hour because everyone wants to say hello. Most days, it's nice to have people to talk to. Somedays, its frustrating when you have to plan to leave an hour in advance in preparation. Anyway, when people ask me where I'm from and I say America. They automatically assume a lot of things, but one of those things is that I know every famous person from American pop culture. "Oh, I love Lil Wayne, can you give me his number?" "What's Beyonce like?" Or, even more simply, "I once knew a John from Boston, do you know him?"
6. For children under the age of 5, my name is only "Lekoa", meaning white person. They shout it outside my gate waiting for me to come out and play. No matter how many times I tell them my real name, it just won't stick.
8. When it comes to giving directions, the most detail I ever get is a vague hand gesture followed by "it's that side" That side is a term that can mean the other side of this building here or it can mean the other side of the world, like America. Usually, when going somewhere I am unfamiliar with, I stop about every five feet to make sure I am still heading the right direction.
I hope this list is somewhat interesting and I am sure it is a list that will continue to evolve as this adventure unfolds. Always feel free to ask me any questions you have about my life here and please keep me updated on your lives back home!
All my love, as always.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Right now, we are in the integration phase of our service. We are not supposed to be starting new projects but working to integrate into the community and figure out what our role will be. The schools will be shutting down this week for the year and reopen in mid-January. This time has been crucial for me to figure out what projects I want to start as well as building relationships with the staff at my school. So far, I am most excited about implementing a Big Brothers/Big Sisters club between the Junior and Primary school here. The goal is to pair an older student with a younger student to serve as a mentoring program as well as making the transition from Primary school to Junior School easier. Luckily, the staff at both schools are on board and eager to assist me - come January it looks like the club should be up and running! I will also work to revive the PACT club, which is a club that trains the youth to counsel and lead other youth through example. In addition, last week I was marking exams with the teachers and was incredibly discouraged by the results. I was unsure if the results were a reflection of the students efforts or the teachers or a combination of both. I was able to convince the teachers to let me run a data analysis on the students performances in order to revamp the curriculum for next year. I am hopeful that I will be able to make a positive impact on my students' lives and become a trusted resource within the community.
As December approaches its hard to believe that life will slow down even more. The country tends to shut down for the month and I will have even more free time than I already do. Its a hard time to be away from home without distraction and doesn't feel much like the holiday season without family and friends and in this excruciating heat. I know that this time will continue to teach me invaluable lessons and help me to appreciate home more than I ever thought possible. I ask that you all take the time this holiday season to hug your loved ones tight and be thankful to share this time with them. Think of me and know that I am already daydreaming about rejoining in all the Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions that are making me miss home in such a way. A big group of volunteers is getting together for a Friendsgiving this coming weekend and while it won't be the same, it will be nice to celebrate together and allow ourselves a weekend to relish in our Americanism. Cheers, until next time!
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Hello all from my home in Kumakwane! There is so much to share that I am not quite sure where to begin. Life has been nothing short of hectic as we wrapped up our Pre-Service Training, held our final LPIs (Language Proficiency Interviews which we had to test at a certain level in order to move to site - imagine the pressure), said goodbye to our host families, packed up our belongings once more, swore in and not even 24 hours later moved to our new villages! My apologies for a delayed blog post but I am just now unwinding from it all and feeling slightly settled in my village.
A few words on swearing in - the ceremony was really special, a lot of prominent political and social figures came to share their words of wisdom, encourage us in our work and welcome us on behalf of the Botswana government. Standing up and placing my right hand in the air while taking my Oath of Service really reminded me of my initial desire to join the Peace Corps and filled me with so much pride on finally becoming a volunteer. I cannot begin to express how tough the last two months were. The culture shock, adjusting to living over 8,000 miles away from home, the long and tiring days in the classroom and the severe missing of loved ones. In that moment though, swearing in and committing to serve for two years, I did not think of those hard times. Instead, I thought of all the friends I have already made, the experiences I have already had, the lessons I have already and still will learn, the people I have yet to meet but soon will and the work I will hopefully accomplish. After the ceremony, we shared a lunch with our host families and then all the volunteers celebrated our achievement! This was my favorite and most joyful day in Botswana thus far.
The next day, my School Head came to pick me up directly. Turns out a lot of other people didn't have transportation to their villages so we crammed five volunteers and all their luggage into a khombi (a van-like vehicle) and turned what was supposed to be a four hour journey into an eleven hour day, dropping everyone off on the way. We found it comical that we were moving five people with one vehicle when the same task would take multiple U-Hauls in the States. Simplicity at its finest. Needless to say, my School Head is someone I am looking very much forward to working with. He is helpful, patient, kind and even managed to maintain a sense of humor troughout what was an even longer day for him. We did not arrive in Kumakwane until nearly 9:00 pm and upon arriving and tracking down my landlord (we were so late he thought we weren't coming) I was finally given the keys to my very own home! The compound itself is very beautiful and well kept with a giant tree right in the center. There are also two dogs that are sweet to me but protective and guarded toward strangers. The real beauty though was what I saw when I opened the front door! Not only did this house represent the regaining of my independence but the start of a new and much anticipated chapter. My house has beautiful tiled floor, a large sitting room, a kitchen, two bedrooms and a truly amazing bathroom that I feel guilty for having. Not only do I have a large bathtub and a working shower but HOT running water and electricity. I still think my favorite part, Dad this is for you, is that when I am tucked away in my bedroom at night, eight locks separate me from the outside world! Safety first, fun second, right Dad?
One of the many challenges about Peace Corps Botswana is the varying accomodations that volunteers have. Some do not have electricity or running water, some houses are only one single room and some are the likes of what we have in the states. That being said, I plan on opening my door to other volunteers and sharing in my good fortune at every moment possible - something that will not be tough as I live only 15 minutes from the capital which happens to be where Peace Corps Headquarters is located.
The extremity of the difference in my life in less than one week is once again difficult to describe. I went from living with a host mother who kindly wanted to do everything for me, seeing the other 58 volunteers all day every day and having every moment of my day mapped out for me to having complete freedom, a lot of down time and no guidance. To top it off, we are supposed to spend our first three months at site on "lockdown" meaning we can't leave our villages, unless to grocery shop, in order to better integrate into our communities. Unfortunately for us, lockdown this year includes Thanksgiving, Christmas and my birthday. Talk about a recipe for some serious bouts of homesickness.
Imagine for a minute being dropped off at your new home with no car, no GPS, no map, never having been there before and not knowing a single person. I decided immediately to welcome the adventure and have been busy exploring for the last five days. My first day, I made it to the capital by myself to do some shopping for my new home using public transport. I did not get lost, scammed or scared! One thing I am trying to live by here is celebrating the small victories. Life moves slowly here and it is important to be proud of even the seemingly meaningless things - let me tell you I sure felt accomplished after that trip! I have also been visiting the local stores and tuck shops and introducing myself to try to get to know as many people aa possible. I have been spending everyday at the school developing a programming outline for my work with my counterpart, a kind and ambitious woman whose name is too long to even attempt but prefers to go by Lala. I am quickly getting to know the staff at school, all who are very helpful and welcoming. On Friday, my gas and electricity went out. Within an hour the school delivered a gas tank from the Home Ec Department to my front door and even set it up for me! I am additionally lucky to have a supportive team that I already feel part of. Tomorrow, I am meeting with the village Social Worker to map out our plans for working together. Perhaps most excitingly, on Friday I will be formally introduced to all my students at Assembly.
I realize that this is information overload, hope you stuck with the whole post! Like I said, life moves slowly here and I find myself missing home in a new and startling way without the constant distractions of a busy schedule and the company of friends. I know that I am simply in another transitional period and ready to tackle yet another set of challenges. If you have the time, I ask that you write me. I think I say this every post but hearing from home is te greatest pick-me-up I could ever ask for. Now that I have more free time and am near a Post Office I can write back too! I am collecting all the cards, letters and pictures (an awesome and easy thing to send) I have received and making a wall of them on the back of my bedroom door. That way I never have to feel completely alone. My new and permanent address is:
Peace Corps Volunteer
Postal Bag 00290
Missing you all and thinking of you every day, as always.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Sunday, September 15, 2013
I hope everything is going great for you all back stateside. I miss everyone and everything about home every single day! Please know that even though it is difficult at times for me to stay in touch, I think of you everyday and I love you all so much.
Life here continues to get better as we adjust and feel more at home in this foreign place. I spent the last week shadowing a current volunteer who is 17 months into her service and living in Jwaneng, a large mining village. Christina just so happened to graduate from Mentor High (the school my parents, aunts and uncles went to) and went to Miami University making my PC family that much more connected. That is my third PC connection to someone back home. One other volunteer is family friends with a neighbor of ours and another went to high school with my brother-in-law's sister went to high school with another fellow volunteer. Hence the title of this blog, it truly is a small world after all. Even though all 58 of us (down from 61 as 3 volunteers have already left us early) come from all over the US and every different background imaginable, we still find our connections. This group truly has already become a family.
Back to shadowing, Christina works at one of the only orphanages in Botswana and I got to see her day-to-day life and get a grasp of what my life will be like come October when I arrive at site. We ate the most delicious food I have ever had (probably a result of eating traditional Botswana food for the past month) and were able to regain some of the independence that we lose while living with a host family. It was also great to meet different volunteers and chat with them about what Peace Corps Service has meant to them. The overwhelming feeling I have after talking with them is that my service will be what I make it. I heard time and time again that low lows will come and you will question why you are here, but high highs will follow. After my week away, I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the last half of Pre-Service Training. I feel more prepared than ever (not saying much) to take on the challenge of spending two years away from home, living remotely and doing my best to tackle my work.
Site announcement is this week. It is an extremely exciting time for us. I can't wait to know where I will be living, what amenities I will have (fingers crossed for electricity) and which friends I will be living by. Come Thursday, I will finally have some clarity. I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to it! Keep all 58 of us in your thoughts, if you can, as it will be both an exciting and challenging time.
For now, I will leave you. Enjoy that fall weather creeping in. It is only the start of summer here and today the high was 97.
Hugs and kisses from 8,000+ miles away!
Monday, September 2, 2013
I have been in country for three weeks now and time is moving much more quickly as I get used to my new routine, home, family, and being away from home. We are 1/4 of the way through PST (Pre-Service Training) and getting into much heartier and more applicable material which makes me one excited girl! Last week, we had a woman who is HIV positive come and speak with us about the stigma that surrounds HIV in Botswana. She explained to us that men here prefer not to be tested for HIV and that instead, they test through their women, meaning that if someone they have slept with is HIV positive, that is how they know they are too. The gender dynamic here is a tough thing to get used to. Men expect women to do everything for them and show little gratitude. Additionally, in my village, it is predominantly women and children, the men are simply not around. No one really has an explanation for this either. It is also standard that if a man buys a woman a drink at a bar, she is expected to sleep with him. I never considered myself much of a feminist stateside, but here, in the words of my sister Katie, my feminist blood boils! For now, my plan is simply to lead by example to other women in regards to empowerment and how they should expect to be treated.
The next few weeks are going to be an exciting time for us! On Thursday, I get to go observe at a school similar to the one in which I will be working. I am really excited to start more focused work. On Friday, we get to visit a diamond mine which is the number one driver for Botswana's economy. Very few people are granted access to this specific mine and we are honored to be invited. The following week, we get to travel to another village to shadow a current volunteer who works in the same program as we do. I am really excited for this because it will give me a good idea of what my day-to-day life will be like come October as well as give me a chance to see another part of Botswana. I know time will move quickly and before we know it, it'll be September 19th which is SITE ANNOUNCEMENT! I can't wait to learn where I will be living for the next two years. As of now, my primary concern is not that I have running water or electricity at site but that I will be close enough to other volunteers to travel to see them on the weekends. No two volunteers will be in the same village so isolation is a huge concern of mine.
Pictures will come soon, I miss you all and still would love to hear from you!
Sunday, August 25, 2013
I am alive and well and apologize for my lack of posts. Life has been hectic and overwhelming and wonderful and simple and challenging all in the same breath. I will do my best to fill you in. From here on out, internet access will be easier to come by so I hope I will be able to post and share more with those of you who are interested.
I have been with my host family for a week and a half now. At the matching ceremony, my mother greeted me with a loud native sound made with the tongue and some crazy dance moves - including a move that looked as if she was churning butter. She greeted me with open arms and nothing has changed since. She gave me my Setswana name - Mpho (pronounced mm-po) - and has been continuously gracious and loving. She speaks little English but we get by. When we combine her minimal English and the little bit of Setswana I have mastered, we can communicate in a surprisingly effective manner. It is just my mother and I in my house. My mother has taught me so much already. I take bucket baths twice a day and bathe when she tells me to and wash what she tells me to. She has taught me how to cook Botswana food which consists of a lot of starch, meat and cabbage. Last weekend, she told me to come outside with her. I followed her out with a bowl of meat - bone and all. She dropped it in a hollow tree trunk, ground it up with a wooden pole, scooped it out and served it to me. The taste of the meat was not bad but the grit and the bone and the dirt was hard for me to get past. Today, I learned to wash my clothes by hand. Life here is much simpler. The days stretch on and on, especially on the weekends when there is little to do. Every day gets a little bit easier, but I find myself missing home and the States constantly.
In addition to my host mother, my host niece, who is 22 years old spends a lot of time at the house with her two kids - Nailo, who turned two yesterday, and Kailo who is ten months old. It is fun to have kids in the house but also make me miss sweet Emree more than I did before - if possible. My niece speaks perfect English and we have had many conversations surrounding our respective cultures. Even though she is my niece, she feels more like a sister.
As I said before, the days stretch on here. I wake up at 6:00 to get my water ready for my bath. I eat breakfast then walk 45 minutes to school. We spend 9 hours a day in the classroom and then walk 45 minutes home. When I get home, I go over my Setswana with my mom, eat dinner and by that point am ready for bed. It has been a difficult transition as the support system that has always been my solid foundation is not as easily accessible. I find myself reverting to my inner-nerd and seeking comfort in reading. My favorite thing to read are emails from home! Please write! Hearing from home makes me feel as though I am still connected to the people I miss so dearly.
I hope this blog post is not too dreary. Life here is good and the people of Botswana continue to welcome us, greeting us on the streets, asking us what we are here for. We were even on national news! I am incredibly blessed to have been placed in the home I am in - my mother tells me continuously to live here as if I was in my own mother's home. She calls me "my daughter" and hugs me everyday when I get home. It is nice to learn to appreciate the simple things. Like I said, every day gets better and better and I feel more and more at home in a place that is so foreign. One of the things I told myself as I prepared to move is "You can't grow without change" and I continue to remind myself of that everyday!
Tomorrow, I will post more about the exciting, positive things along with some pictures. Missing you all, every day!
Monday, August 12, 2013
c/o Peace Corps Botswana
Private Bag 00243
Despite the sadness that overcame me yesterday, today I feel an overriding feeling of excitement! I am sitting among 65 individuals who already feel like friends and I imagine soon will feel like family. It has been great to finally put faces to the names of those I have been talking to for months and to have people to talk to that are feeling exactly what I am feeling right now. As I am about to board I ask that you all keep in touch and don't forget about me. When hard days strike (as I am confident they will) push me. Remind me that this has been a dream of mine for a while now. I am counting on you all!
I'm not sure when I will have internet next but will update as soon as I can.
All my love,