Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Settling in in Kumakwane

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:

Sarah Pagenstecher
Peace Corps Volunteer
Kumakwane JSS
Postal Bag 00290
Gaborone, Botswana

Missing you all and thinking of you every day, as always.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Listen with Your Ears, Hear with Your Heart

Hey all! I am well aware that I am way overdue for a blog post. Life is moving along quickly here in Serowe as we prepare to wrap up training and move to our new sites. Hard to believe that we have been here nearly two months and our intensive training is almost over. 

First things first, I'd like to share with you more about the village I will be living in. Two weeks ago, we had a large site announcement ceremony where we found out where we will be moving to. We were called up one-by-one, read a proverb that announced where we would be going and then placed our name on a map of Botswana so we coulld see where everyone was going. My proverb read, "Listen with your ears, hear with your heart in.... Kumakwane!". I was second to be called up and shaking so badly that I dropped my envelope. It was a weird sensation holding in my hands where I will be living for two years but having had no say in that decision. Talk about placing your fate in someone else's hands.

Kumakwane is only 20k outside of the capital, Gaborone, which means access to everything I need! As if I didn't already hit the jackpot, my house has electricity and running water which are amenities I really was not expecting to have. It's crazy how grateful I have already become for what are basic utilities back home.  I got placed in a junior secondary school there.  I got placed in a junior secondary school there. I really wanted to be in a JSS to work with kids that are at a vulnerable and impressionable age. My students will be ages 13-16 and I will be working with the guidance and counseling chair as my counterpart. Last week, we had a supervisor workshop where our counterparts and supervisors came for a two day workshop. The man that came from my school was eloquent, ambitious, laid-back and kind. He shared with me that I will not only be working closely with the students in the guidance department but I will also be working closely with the social worker in the village. In addition, they are currently working to open up a rehabilitation center and he wants me to have a strong hand in heading that up. I really believe that I got the absolute perfect placement possible for my experience and skill set. That being said, my spirits are HIGH and I cannot wait to get to site in just 11 short days! 

Leaving Serowe will be tough as it has really started to feel like home. Not only do I have a nice and comfortable home with a loving host mom but I get to see my friends who feel like family everyday. A few days ago, my mom (who speaks little English) and I were having breakfast and she randomly said "I don't like 15th of October. I don't like it." October 15th is the day we move to site. I will miss her and hope to visit her throughout my service but am ready to have my own space and regain my independence. 

On an unrelated note, I got a care package from home yesterday along with a handful of letters throughout the past weeks. I can't even begin to describe to you the charge and excitement in the room when we get mail. It makes us feel connected to our lives back home and reassures us that we aren't forgotten about. That being said, I hope to get my new mailing address within the next few days and will post it immediately. 

I'm hoping that moving to site will also grant me with some stability and routine and I can better maintain this blog. Thanks for your patience with me as I figure out how to navigate my new Botswana life.

Go siame (goodbye) for now!