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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Old News is Good News

February 25th, 2013
Projects and Work:
Currently I am working with several volunteers to plan two weekend camps, one for girls and one for boys at Matsha Senior Secondary school in Kang.  So far we have been pretty lucky with the planning and working with an excellent local employee at the Ministry of Education through the alcohol levy and we will hopefully be able to cover the cost of the entire camp with locally sourced contributions.  We have also been working with the Days For Girls organization to get a supply of ‘menstruation kits’ (washable pads and materials) for all the girls attending the camp (check out the website if you get a chance and read through the info. of why the organization was developed ).This is something that we thought would really benefit the students because of the lack of supplies available to them at school, often times they are forced to rely on makeshift materials such as pieces ripped from their foam mattresses to deal with their periods. Sometimes this is an issue due to insufficient funds, poor distribution, lack of communication etc., I am not exactly sure why and I don’t really have the ability/authority to find out. So for now all I can do is put a band-aid on the problem. Ideally, we would be able to potentially start something up with the school to get or make them for all of the girls at school but this will be a good test run.  We are meeting this weekend to finalize the budget, accommodations and schedule. 
At the primary school in Morwamosu I have been working with the PACT club and the students have been working on pen pal letters about Healthy Living and what it means to them.  In the past couple of meetings we addressed issues of grief and loss.  While I knew that many of the children had lost people close to them it was a reminder of how widespread and prevalent those experiences are and how only several years ago people were attending funerals every Saturday.  Many of the students had lost a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle or grandparent and we discussed the stages of grief, how they felt and who they looked to for support.  At the end of the discussion, as a way of bringing closure to the conversation, students decorated paper hearts with the names of their loved ones that had passed to honor their memories. 
With Grassroots Soccer we have been working on lessons that focus on HIV transmission with a game called HIV Attacks.  It’s sort of like dodge ball and basically demonstrates how the immune system is weakened by HIV and how ARV’s can help.  During the games there is also a lot of discussion about prevention, why the body reacts the way it does, and how to live a healthy lifestyle.   The kids usually get pretty into the game and it’s great to see the comprehension of the concept, after all HIV (as far as medical terminology and its effects on the body) is a little abstract of a concept for most elementary students.
I have also been working with the PTA, teachers and staff to create a mural at school.  Currently we are planning to do a map of the world on the outside of one of the buildings and some letters and numbers in the classrooms.  I am meeting with the Senior Assistant Council Secretary this week to check on the approval of the use of the building (since it’s government owned you have to ask permission before altering it) and the PTA should be able to provide the funds for the materials. 
While in Mabutsane I am also meeting with the Economics officer to discuss the plans for the preschool and see where she is at with things on that end as well as the project leader at Humana People to People to discuss the mobile testing dates and events that are coming up in March.
Next week we will be starting a library visit schedule at school and starting up the reading competition again to motivate and encourage students to read more.  Currently I am making charts with all the students’ names to be loaded up with stickers.  
On Thursday I made arrangements with an organization called King’s Foundation (U.K. based) to come to Morwamosu to do a training with teachers and community members about youth activities.  I think it was a great opportunity to engage the students and provide them with some fun outlets afterschool and on weekends.
If possible I would also like to try and work with the community to organize an event or discussion on International Women’s Day about some gender related issues in the community, particularly gender based violence.
There have also been other issues that I have dealt with lately but are personal to people that I care about here, these have included issues of domestic violence and child abuse.  It feels inappropriate to go into more detail than that in this sort of forum because of the lack of privacy but they are issues that have been brought to my attention and have shaped what my career interests are for the future.
Rash has been successfully dealt with and left a mild scar or just area of un-tanned skin although several days later I got stung by a blister beetle which caused my neck to blister and generally get gross.  That’s gone now too though, so for the most part I look like a semi-normal/respectable human being again. So many skin ailments in Peace Corps!
Mental Health:
I haven’t really written about this in too much depth because it is something I consider to be more private, but I think it is a big part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer.  This is the most challenging thing I have ever done.  This past weekend I went to a Regional meeting for PCV’s in my area and it’s interesting to talk with volunteers from all different intake groups; some are ending their service and some are just beginning.  Throughout the course of my service I have gone through many ups and downs.  I have wanted to leave and I have wanted to stay, all in the course of 24 hours.  I have felt that things are hopeless and then that I and my counterparts are making a significant difference in the lives of others within a matter of minutes.  I have sat on my floor crying because I have not had water or electricity for days while a rat has been eating my food and children are screaming at me from outside my door.  The next day I have happily eaten and chatted with neighbors and played games with children, not caring that there hasn’t been electricity or water for days.  Basically, this entire experience has been characterized by extreme highs and lows and ultimately there is no one to turn to but yourself.  Sure, I can reach out to family, other volunteers and my local neighbors but ultimately no one is having the same experience as I am.  I am not saying this because I want anyone’s sympathy; it’s not about that, it has been about finding the inner strength to deal with each situation.  Sometimes the cell network is down and I can’t talk to family or friends and my local friends might not understand why I am upset about something so I have to decide how to handle the situation; how to deal with finding out about deaths and illnesses back home, how to combat missing loved ones, how to deal with my own failures and successes.  It is a long and difficult two years and if nothing else, you learn more than you ever wanted to know about yourself.
Other Things that Happened:
I found out it gets hot enough here for tar to bubble.  Solid to liquid hot.  I discovered this by sitting on the side of the road while waiting for a bus.  I sat down on the curb and I was poking tar bubbles with a stick because there was nothing else to do and could provide with entertainment for an extended period of time.  When they burst in gooey explosions I realized that I was sitting on the exact same surface and that now my last reasonably clean/decent looking pair of pants had giant black tar stains all over the seat.  Alright fine, I can manage that, after all I don’t have to see the seat of my pants, so to me, I look reasonably put together.  I got on the bus and put my bag in my lap, the bag that had been sitting on the same tarred road.  Now I have tar all over the front of my pants and my hands and pretty much everywhere.  This is when I give up on looking presentable.
I continue to find dead bugs (cockroaches, moths, flies etc.) throughout my house and I am beginning to wonder what is killing them.  For most it seems to be prolonged exposure to my bed net, which probably means I shouldn’t really be touching it.
I also received a creepy sexual proposition while buying juice at the grocery store.  Who knew buying juice could be so sexy.  It was mango though…
My thoughts on foreign aid have completely changed.
I’ve been reading The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly, which probably partially contributes to the previous statement.
I made ice cream in my freezer with milk and eggs.  Currently my diet consists of Popsicle  ice cream, apples, mangoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, tuna and coffee.  This sounds like something my insides are going to hate me for.
My French press broke or rather exploded/shattered.  This was a sad day.
I figured out how to add airtime to my phone without going somewhere to buy it.
My family is coming to visit in less than 50 days!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Best Part of Being Sick is A/C

Over the holidays I was lucky enough to land a stay-cation gig where I house sat for a lovely CDC employee.  She had a wonderful house with wi-fi, a pool, satellite tv, showers and a full kitchen.  There were also 4 giant, lovable dogs that I took care of.  I had some friends over on Christmas and made an excellent dinner and mostly hung out by the pool and watched trash tv, I think my new favorite show is ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’.  I also took the opportunity to check off everything on my internet list.  What is my internet list you may ask?  It is a list of all the things I would like to someday look at on the internet when I have time and do not have to pay for it by the minute.  This is when I get to look at family photos, facebook pages, blogs, the news (which I have mostly given up on, I have hardly any idea what is happening in the world anymore) and any other random thing that I can think of that has been irritating me for an extended period of time, for example the best way to kill rodents on a budget (turns out it is with a bucket of water and a ramp, in case you were wondering).  I also took the opportunity to aimlessly plan for life after Peace Corps.  There are too many options.  I think I will be too overwhelmed to do much right away, based off of my brief Target experience when I was home in July.  I went to Target with my mom and it took her two hours to get me to leave, I had no intention of buying anything but I just wanted to look.  There were SO MANY CHOICES!  That’s still quite a way off though so no point in worrying about it just yet.  Back to the story at hand, I spent Christmas and New Years visiting friends, skyping with friends and family and enjoying the amenities of house-sitting. 
After that glorious week and a half I went back to my village.  It was great to see my little house and a bunch of kids running up to the road to meet me.  Unfortunately I didn't stay long.  During my stay-cation I had begun to develop a bit of a rash.  It would go away right?  Sure, some hydro-cortisone cream and some Benadryl, that should take care of it.  Hmm, not a mosquito or spider bite?  Must have been something the dogs got into out in the yard…surely it will go away in a day or two.  Thinking this I embarked on my four and a half hour bus ride home, only to realize two days later that this was definitely not going to go away, in fact it was spreading.  Crap.  Dreading the long bus ride I walked over to the clinic and met with the doctor there (luckily it was Monday so the doctors were there) and he gave me more hydro-cortisone and Benadryl.  Unfortunately that wasn't working so, back on the bus for another four and a half hours.  Despite the spreading rash this was one of the most pleasant bus rides I've ever taken in Botswana.  There weren't many people on the bus because it was mid-week and coming off the end of the holidays so everyone had to be at work.  This meant I could have the window open!  Also, I am pretty sure no one wanted to sit next to me because I looked like a leper.  I got to Gaborone and went into Peace Corps medical where I was given some antibiotics, antihistamine injections, antihistamines and ibuprofen.   I went back to the hotel, took all my meds and passed out.  The next day I woke up and my eyes were a bit puffy and swollen, so I got to stay an extra day for observation.  Good thing because the next day I could hardly open them.  This made it extra fun to make the walk over to medical, which is only about half a mile-a mile from the hotel but it’s really hot here and I couldn't see very well so this made me a bit cranky.  Also my entire body is itching like mad, oh, and did I mention it is hot as hell.  Meanwhile I am getting cat calls from the guys that hang around the mall.  Really?  I am hot and sweaty and my face is puffed up like a balloon and I look miserable.  What about that says flirt with me? Granted it could be a lot worse but by the time I got to the Peace Corps office I hated everyone and everything and I was convinced this experience was some sort of cruel test to see how much I could tolerate before I lost it. Where’s the hidden camera?  Round two of antibiotics, an antihistamine shot, blood draws (which just about made me pass out, but that’s normal, I REALLY hate having my blood drawn) and an appointment with a specialist the next day.  Whoa, this morning my eyes were very puffy, I could barely open them.  I put on sunglasses so as not to scare people too much.  I think the hotel staff were on to me though, they steered pretty clear of me.  Off to the specialist I went, getting on a combi, slightly drugged up from all the antihistamines and attempting to avoid small talk as best I could because antihistamines+already not a morning person=death stare to anyone who tries to interact with me.  I got to the hospital and went through the normal check in routine and met with the doctor who prescribed me some real heavy duty antibiotics, some non-drowsy antihistamines and some steroids.  Yeah steroids (say in husky man steroid voice)!  Meanwhile I discovered the rash may have been contagious? And I may have given it to a friend of mine? Sorry.  Anyway, I never figured out entirely what it was but I did get the opportunity to google all of the various possibilities on the CDC website.  Very bad idea.  Which sort of parasitic worm could it be?  There are so many and they all have similar effects!  Except for that one that gets into your brain, that one is really creepy.  It could have been any of them, after all I did go swimming in the Zambezi River in Zambia which could contain any number of those things.  Luckily, it appears to just have been an allergic reaction to some sort of bacteria, probably encountered in contaminated water, that my body overreacted to or something.  Anyway, I seem to be on the mend now so that’s a good sign, at least it wasn't dysentery or a guinea worm (google it…I dare you).
Next week, back to work!  I am really excited to get going on projects for this school year, I have a lot of really great people that I am looking forward to working with and all sorts of projects that have been brought up by community members so hopefully together we can work something out.  Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Everything In-Between

September 20, 2012-December 14, 2012

What follows is what I began at different times, added onto and failed to post:

In the U.S. hitchhiking is extremely uncommon and considered to be quite dangerous.  In Botswana, it is a normal activity.  While I am advised as a PCV, not to hitch, often there isn’t any other option regarding transport.  There are certain things to be taken into consideration though so that safety is still maintained.  

Here are the rules I have made for myself;

1.       1. Avoid hitching at night.  Most people on the road are drunk at this point and there are more animals in the road, animals that are much sneakier and harder to see, and possibly drunk as well considering how those donkeys respond to headlights
2.     2.   Don’t take a lift with a semi truck driver unless you are accompanied by a group or a very large man that you trust.  Some of them are great but some of them are creepy and almost all of them are from outside of Botswana so the same sort of mentality about hiking doesn’t always transfer.
3.       3. Always bring sunscreen.  This will be your saving grace when you are riding in the back of a pick-up for 4 hours straight.
4.     4.   Always bring water and food. This will pay off during the ride but also when you are stuck waiting for the next lift for hours on end.   Sometimes it’s 5 minutes and sometimes it’s 3 hours.
5.      5.  Make friends with your driver.  You can usually make a new friend, connection, they know someone you know or they might give you a lift for free!

A couple of months ago I celebrated my ‘1 Year in Country’.  The official mid-service training was this past week. I can’t believe it has gone by this quickly, it feels like everything just got incredibly busy all of the sudden. It was a relaxing weekend filled with swimming, showers, eating, drinking, games and general revelry.  A good time was had by all. 

A couple months ago I had a STEPS (videos made in South Africa about HIV/AIDS) training and then I had a crazy jam packed couple of weeks ahead of me.  A lot of things are starting to come together at the same time and I shouldn’t have probably thrown so many possibilities out at once because I am starting to feel a bit overwhelmed.  After the training I met with Lesego Morake at the Ministry of Education about an alcohol abuse awareness event in Morwamosu while we are holding a football (aka soccer) tournament.  If possible I would like to squeeze in an SMC (safe male circumcision) discussion and get one of the doctors to come down to perform the procedures.  It probably seems strange that SMC would contribute to reduced transmission rates of HIV but basically there were studies conducted (2005 in South Africa and 2006 in Kenya) that show a significant decrease in transmission because foreskin is more vulnerable to HIV infection through tearing and can harbor the virus and other STI’s  etc.  Most of the studies were ended early because researchers found out how beneficial the procedure was to reduce infection rates.   Since I will have a large and somewhat captive male audience, this seems like the best time.  Sadly, this sounds like an event that would be dreaded by most men, it starts off fun and then all the sudden somebody wants to snip off part of your penis.  Anyway, hopefully there will be a good attendance rate, with all the free swag I’m getting.  SMC has also been widely publicized in the country and many men are interested in undergoing the procedure but there is a lack of facilities and doctors in many areas to perform the procedure. To follow up on that, the event was successful and was held the first weekend of November.  I couldn’t get the doctor to come out because it was too far and possibly not enough people were enlisted for the procedure.  Currently, I am working with some of the volunteers in Kang to coordinate an SMC campaign with the clinic there and hopefully we can generate some awareness.  At Mid-Service Training several presenters came to discuss some of the new procedures that they were hoping to implement in Botswana to increase circumcision rates and reduce the need for surgical materials and doctors, enter PrePex.  Interesting device that would require no surgery/sutures and would be less painful, basically it consists of two plastic rings; currently the biggest obstacle would be the public opinion about its use.

Birthday swimming at the Gat

Alcohol Awareness/SMC/Football Tournament

I celebrated my birthday in Ghanzi at the Gat, an old quarry turned swimming hole.  We had a braii.  It was awesome.
Mingle Mingle game at GLOW Camp

I also recently facilitated a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp in Moshupa.  Transportation was a bit of an issue at first and after many phone calls it all worked out.  I brought 5 girls from Morwamosu and they all loved the camp.  I worked with 10 other Peace Corps Volunteers and several local Counterparts.  We led a variety of sessions on communication, HIV/AIDS, decision making, money management, self-esteem and many others.  In addition to the sessions we also had a variety of craft activities and games.  Overall I think it was very successful, it was amazing to see the girls open up and gain confidence even over such a short period of time.  The students that I brought still ask about doing weekend activities with some of the girls they met in neighboring villages and have taught other students at school some of the crafts and leadership skills they learned. 
After all that work it was time for a vacation!  I recently went to Zambia with my friend and fellow PCV Julia.  The trip began with us boarding a bus at 5pm that was supposed to get us to the Botswana/Zambia border at 5 am.  We got on the bus and around 9pm as we were driving along and I had half fallen asleep I woke up to a loud thud and the bus swerving a bit.  The driver pulled over and everyone got off the bus to examine what we had hit.  A cow.  The cow took out a giant chunk of the bumper and in return the bus took off its head.  Everyone got back on the bus and we continued onward.  I woke up a second time to half the passengers shouting at the driver in Setswana.  Apparently the driver had been falling asleep at the wheel and the bus was weaving.  The driver shouted back that he wasn’t falling asleep and basically everyone should leave him alone.  Since he wouldn’t pull over a passenger came up and sat next to him to chat him up and keep him alert for the duration.  We got to the border around 5 and had to wait for the border control offices to open, they opened around 6 and we got our passports stamped and hopped onto the ferry to cross the river to Zambia.  Trucks were lined up for miles waiting to cross, apparently some truck drivers will be there for a week at a time waiting to cross.  Supposedly they are building a bridge this year.
We got through the border control at Zambia, changed money with a guy on the street and got into a taxi to Livingston.  After that bus ride we were pretty exhausted but we had to wait for our room to open up at the hostel so we walked around the market and bought some groceries (cheapest trip ever, we cooked all our own food).  Later that night we had drinks at the hostel bar and met some of the PCV’s from Namibia, locals and other travelers sharing stories about their trip.  The next day Julia and I got a lift into Victoria Falls and met up with our friend Boni to tour the park, we had hoped we would be able to walk across the falls to Devil’s Pool on our own to save ourselves some money (in retrospect that was a dumb idea and I probably would have died), there were guards in place at the side of the falls to keep us from going without a guide though.  Since we had waited so long we had to sweet talk the tour guide into taking us on the last trip of the day.  We walked up to the top of the falls and shuffled along a concrete ledge overflowing with water that was moving at a fairly quick pace.  The water level is low now since the rainy season just began so it’s still possible to walk across the falls for another month or so.  I guess you can also take a boat to Livingston Island, which is probably a lot safer.  Holding hands with our guide Julia and I stepped on slick rocks across the top of the falls, at one point on our return we were about 3 feet from the edge of the falls and our guide told us ‘It is very important that you step here’, to which I mistakenly looked over the edge, squeezed Julia’s hand and said ‘This doesn’t feel like a good idea’, but there was nowhere else to go.  Across we went and luckily we didn’t slip.  We got to the Devil’s Pool which is basically a small pool that looks out over the falls, you jump off from the island into this pool that has a four foot high wall about two feet deep that keeps you from going over the edge.  Julia leaned out over the edge and we got a photo, then my camera battery died, which is just as well, no one really needs to see the look or terror on my face as I peered out over the edge with someone loosely holding my ankles so I don’t fall over the edge.  We got back that night and relaxed. 
The next day we were off to Bovu Island which is run by an ex-pat named Brett.  Brett has lived all over Southern Africa and found this spot to call his own.  The place is called Jungle Junction and is a series of fishermen’s huts on a small island on the Zambezi River.  There’s no electricity really, just some generators that keep the beer cold, the important stuff you know.  We spent the next couple of days lounging around, paddling mokoro’s (dugout canoes) along the river, walking around the surrounding area looking at wildlife.  There are quite a few hippos and crocodiles in the area so we were warned not to go near the water at night.  Good to know.  There are also Servals (like a house cat sized leopard) that would come near the dining area at night and monkeys that swung through the trees, which made it also important to not leave a bag unattended because the monkeys would steal your stuff.  After a couple of relaxing days on the banks of the Zambezi we began our trek back home and on to our Mid-Service training, luckily this time we were lucky because two other PCV’s (John and Tracy) that joined us on the trip had friends (Jen and Liz) visiting from the U.S. and they were kind enough to take our bags (they had rented a car) and lend us raincoats as we hitched our way back to Gabs.  They were great company throughout the trip.
Mid-Service training was a great opportunity for all of us to share our feelings about our service so far, collaborate and see each other as well as get information about new possible projects and resources.  I went home feeling happy, refreshed and ready for another year.  I also found out that we are being granted leave a couple weeks early due to the fact that there is only one intake group a year now and some of our housing and sites will overlap with the new volunteers.  In addition, I also took over the role of VAC (volunteer action committee) from Becky, who had organized and helped with so many volunteer issues in the past.  The role basically entails quarterly meetings to address volunteer issues with Peace Corps policy. 
This week I am supposed to have a Couch Surfer from Australia but I haven’t heard anything from him so I guess I’ll just see if he shows up.  I’d be amazed if he could find my house with the directions I gave (follow the gravel road, on the left there is a fenced in area and a tree and sort of path, follow that until you see a yard with 2 houses, mine is the roundaval).This weekend I have a GLOW meeting for a camp several volunteers and I are working on for Kang and a mini-regional meeting to introduce the new volunteers to the area. After that I am spending Christmas and New Years house-sitting for a CDC employee in Gaborone.  Staycation. She has wi-fi, a pool, showers, tv and a big fancy kitchen.  It is my plan to lounge by the pool on the internet.  Skype me!   There’s plenty more that has happened in the past three months or so that I haven’t posted but, it’s a start!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

There's a School There?

August 30, 2012
This past week was the week of school visits that I was doing in a partnership with the Ministry of Education and the Education Development Center.  The plan was that members of the MoE and EDC would do some of the visits to schools and Peace Corps volunteers would help with visiting the schools in their areas.  The tasks were simple and straightforward, we had to conduct 5 interviews with teachers and students about the Living materials at schools and opinions about them.  The Living materials are used primarily for Guidance and Counseling classes but they are trying to broaden the scope and have teachers incorporate them into all subjects. We were provided with all the paper work in advance and given a per diem of 60 pula per school.  So began my journey. 
I agreed to visit all the schools in the Jwaneng inspectorate because this is my shopping village and the area closest to me that needed the site visits.  Since there is a volunteer in Jwaneng she was kind enough to allow me to stay with her the whole week.  Everything was off to a great start. 
This is when I began to notice some flaws in what I thought was my well planned and seamless approach.  First, I realized none of the schools were actually in Jwaneng, they were all at least 20 km away, some over 100 km.  I wasn’t provided with any transport so I just needed to figure out public transport, right?  I woke up at 6 am on Monday and went to District office and collected phone numbers and attempted to locate the villages on a map, but most of them are so small they weren’t on any of the maps.  I asked the staff what the best way to get there through public transport was; there wasn’t any way there with public transport, just hitching. 
Next step, I went to the bus rink (or rank, as it is often called for some reason I have yet to determine) and asked them to drop me at the closest spot to these remote villages.  I have often watched this from the bus, when the bus stops in the middle of nowhere (and I mean nowhere, no people, no other roads, no animals, nothing) and lets out an old lady with a baby, a bag of rice and a bucket and you think to yourself, where are they going? They are going to die.  Today I was the person that got off the bus in the middle of nowhere, which was an extreme surprise to everyone on the bus and I am sure they actually thought I probably would die.  I asked the driver which direction the village was and he pointed down a sand ‘path’ in the road and told me it was about 7-10 km down that road.  Often villages will be down a small dirt road or something at about that distance but this literally looked like a glorified hiking trail full of thorn bushes.  I began to question if it was a good idea to actually go through with this since it was already noon (took me forever to get to that point!) and it would probably take me about an hour to get to the school (assuming I didn’t get lost on the nice hiking path) and then I would have to do the interviews (another 2 hours) and walk back (another hour) and hitch all the way back to Jwaneng (because the buses wouldn’t be running any more).  At this point I had mentally inventoried my supplies; 12 oz. of water, an orange, paperwork I could burn for fire.  I probably wouldn’t get back until after dark.  For me this was a moment that I could see something going horribly wrong and I would end up sleeping outside in the desert, maybe on somebody’s floor if I was really lucky.  After about 15 min. of walking a car drove by, (mostly getting blasted by thorn bushes since the path wasn’t really car size) and picked me up and dropped me at school which was a good 20 min. drive away.  When he dropped me I had a momentary panic that I was going to be stranded there, with no one I knew, no food, water etc. Everything went well with the interviews and one of the teachers made me lunch and another drove me to the hitching spot later on (he was the only teacher with a car there).  I also made several new contacts and friends and had worked with some of the teachers at the sports competition in Mabutsane a couple of months back.  It went from being a terrifying experience to a great experience of how amazing Batswana are.  I had talked about this with one of the teachers and she taught me a Setswana proverb ‘Mothala wa motuo ke molomo.’ Which basically translates to ‘you find the way if you use your words’.  I have found this to be very true in Botswana, if you talk with people and develop relationships all you need to do is ask and everyone will help you.
In other recent events, I had a teddy bear distribution day at the school and the kgotla.  Two volunteers from Hukuntsi, John and Tracy, came up to help me out with the distribution.  At the kgotla all the children in the village aged 0-5 were invited to come and collect a bear.   The bears are created by women working with the Mother Bear Project in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The goals of the project are stated below in a statement from their website:
‘The Mother Bear Project is dedicated to providing comfort and hope to children affected by HIV/AIDS in emerging nations, by giving them a gift of love in the form of a hand-knit or crocheted bear.  The simple gift of a hand-knit bear with a tag signed by the knitter has touched children with the message that they are unconditionally loved.’
If you are interested in participating, the website is
The children loved the bears and all of the teachers and many community members participated.  All in all it was a huge success and the support of everyone in the village made it possible.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mouse Rat

There has been a rat living in my house.  He is a very smart rat.  I first noticed his existence right before I left for my trip back to the U.S.  I heard a noise, but at first I wasn't sure if it was just the pigeons and chickens that live on my roof.  Then the cucumber theft occurred and I found his treasure trove of scraps under the drawer in my oven.  After this discovery, I went into town and purchased some poison.  I placed the packets throughout the house, but the rat was too smart and wouldn't go for it.  I thought maybe it was because there wasn't any bait on them, so I covered them in peanut butter, but the rat was too clever for that as well.  At this point I no longer care about a humane end for the rat, I am ready to resort to drastic measures.  He has kept me awake at night; I am ready to bash his brains in.  At this point most of my nights are spent perched on my bed with a large rock in hand awaiting any sound of movement so that I can switch on my headlamp and hurl the rock at anything that moves.  (If you’ve seen Failure to Launch, think of the scene with Zooey Deschanel stalking the mocking bird with a bb-gun, except fewer helpful tools and much less glamorous).  Unfortunately, this strategy was not successful.  Since this failed to work, I was forced to travel into town again and find another method to destroy the rat.  I searched high and low for a trap or different poison but the only thing available was a ‘sticky-paper’ trap (on which the English was glorious, ‘once stuck remove rats and use again!’). This would mean that the rat would be stuck to the paper and I would have to kill it afterwards.  My options were to either bash it over the head or slowly drown it in a bucket.  This reminded me of the David Sedaris story about his experience drowning mice in France, in which some travelers come across him oddly drowning mice on his front porch and the explanation that ensues, highly recommended. 
I set the ‘rat-glue’ out that night with a piece of cheese placed strategically in the center and fell asleep, fully expecting to awake to screeching rat cries.  Alas, no rat cries.  I awoke to discover that the rat had eaten part of the cheese and left menacing foot prints on the trap but had managed to escape.  How was this possible?  I had tested it the night before with my index finger and noticed that it was indeed quite sticky and tenuous.  This could only mean one thing; this rat was a huge bastard.  This had to be The Hulk of rats.  At this point I am perched on my bed again in complete darkness and even more frightened because not only is this a clever rat, it is a giant and strong rat.  Instead of a large rock, I have borrowed a shovel from my landlady.  Something has to be done.  This is not just a friendly mouse that wanders around eating things here and there and runs away frightened whenever it sees you, this is a monster of a rat that chews whole through plastic bags, eats clothing, carries disease, will bite you and is apparently invincible!
At this point I have still yet to determine where the rat is hiding out during the day.  I decided that Monday would be ‘Rat stake-out day’ and I began it by moving all of my furniture into a giant pile in the center of my house so that there was nothing against the wall and therefore, nowhere to hide.  At this point, in case I did come across the rat I decided a back-up plan would be a good idea and I tracked down a woman in the village who owned a cat.  I collected the cat and began my stake-out.  I turned the refrigerator around and discovered a hoard of food next to the engine (?), but that was not his primary residence.  There was nowhere to get in so he had to be living somewhere inside (like a corny horror movie when they call from INSIDE the house!).  I looked under the stove and removed the drawer, nothing.  However, there was some insulation that ran up the sides surrounding the oven, perhaps he could have climbed up there.  Next step, I got out a screwdriver and removed the hotplates and the top of the whole stove.  More insulation, the perfect hiding place, knowing he could be inside I grabbed a broom handle and began poking around.  Movement!  I kept jabbing at it (while wearing my headlamp because it’s dark now) and eventually it shot out the bottom of the stove.  The cat was uninterested at this point.  Not good.  Since the rat was quick and able to run and hide and I didn’t want it to escape somewhere else, I picked up the cat and launched it towards the rat.  In moments it had caught the rat and was picking it apart.  The cat ate the entire rat. The rat was a good 6 inches long, and that was just its body, tail included, it was probably a foot.  I had thought about trying to get it away from the cat but I a.) wanted to know it was entirely dead, b.) thought it was a good reward for the cat, c.) didn’t want the cat to bite/claw me and d.) didn’t want to get near the rat.  Rat problem solved!  I returned the cat the next morning and made dinner for the neighbor who loaned me her cat. 
In other good news, apparently they have fixed my phone.  I won’t believe it until I see it but I am trying to be optimistic. 
All of next week I will be staying in Jwaneng and traveling out to remote villages to conduct teacher and student interviews about the Life Skills programs and their schools for the EDC and Ministry of Education.  I have not been able to locate the villages on a map because they are too small, they also do not have phone numbers listed, I am assuming this is because there is no land line at the schools.  This will be interesting. 
Recently, I also set a date, along with the school staff, clinic, kgosi and other community stakeholders for the teddy bear distribution.  It might not be sustainable, but it will defiantly be fun.  Hopefully it all goes off without any major issues. 
Last weekend I assisted another volunteer, Julia, with a paper bead workshop at her Community Library.  We worked with a group of women teaching them the bead making process and discussed some income generating project ideas.  The women enjoyed the project and were excited to see what they could do with the new skill.  Later in the afternoon we made paper mache masks with the primary school students.  This was an interesting process which mostly resulted in kids running around with newspaper and flour all over their faces.  It ended well though and they will be painting and decorating them next week.
This week I attended a lot of meetings and I am trying to select the girls for the GLOW camp and arrange the transport to Moshupa.  I have also been working with the kgosi and VDC to arrange several community projects including a soccer tournament and alcohol abuse awareness event.  The women’s sewing group is coming along and I have found someone to fix the machine, the next step is to discuss a grant application for materials and payment for training. 
In the meantime I’ve been jumping between classes to teach small lessons because we are short several teachers.  My counterpart and another teacher both recently left on maternity leave and following that they have been transferred to other schools.  We are still awaiting the arrival of their replacements as well as the replacement school head. 
The workshop that had been planned for the Peace Corps life skills volunteers by the Ministry of Education was cancelled at the last minute but apparently we will be meeting at the beginning of September to go over some housekeeping issues.
The one year anniversary of our arrival in Botswana is on September 15th!  In honor of this event I plan to go to the capitol, take a shower and eat ice cream.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Teddy Bears and Cellphones

I’ve gotten really bad at this, or rather, unreliable.  Since last time a lot of things have happened, I recently received 5 boxes of over 250 teddy bears to deliver to students at my school through the Mother Bear project.  I took a trip up north to Tsodilo Hills and saw amazing rock paintings that are thousands of years old.  I lost my cell phone and I went to America for about a week.  I have also discovered that there is a rat living in my house that has yet to fall for my peanut butter covered poison. 
School is currently on break and will begin again in several days.  During the first week of school I am going to a workshop in Gabs with the EDC that is focusing on Monitoring and Evaluating the Curriculum with the Life Skills program (the training we did on infusion of Life Skills/Living materials into other subject areas).  That will be a two day session which will also give me an opportunity to pick up my cell phone that was being repaired.  Why am I getting my cell phone repaired?  Because I managed to lose it my first day back in America, so I had to buy a new one in Botswana that would be internationally unlocked (well, didn’t have to buy, but it is a luxury that I feel I don’t want to forgo).  I went to the store and bought a new phone only to take it home and discover that the mini sd card that runs all the operations/apps etc. wouldn’t go in, thus making the phone useless.  I took it back but was told I had to go to the headquarters office which was only open on Monday (it was then Saturday).  So I got on a combi and went to the bus rink and then walked 25 minutes to the headquarters office.  When I got there they were convinced that I did something to it and didn’t want to fix it and required that I pay if it was to be fixed.  So I shelled out the money and picked it up on Tuesday took it home and it stopped working on Wednesday.  I went back (another combi ride and 25 minute walk) on Wednesday and told them that was ridiculous and I wanted my money back.  This was not a possibility, instead they gave me a loaner phone and told me to come back in a week when they would ‘definitely have it fixed’.  So I took the loaner phone and left.  The next day the loaner phone wasn’t working…so I went back again and they gave me another loaner phone.  This week I should be able to go in a pick it up.  Fingers crossed.
My trip back to the US was great and it was wonderful to see friends and family, sadly I think I spent as much time trying to get there as I was actually there.  The most shocking thing was the amount of choices I had to make every day and the availability of everything.  Grocery stores were overwhelming.  I also don’t think I ever need to purchase another item of clothing ever again. 
This weekend I am doing a paper bead workshop in the south with another volunteer and visiting my counterpart who recently took maternity leave and hopefully stopping by the house of my host family and finding someone since I lost everyone’s phone number.  Next week I have a GLOW camp meeting to organize the sessions that will be held at the camp and finalize some arrangements. We are still working towards our donation goal and currently we are only $1,600.00 short of our goal.  If you think there is anything you can contribute or you are curious about what the funds will go to please check the following link:
In a month it will be my one year anniversary in country, it has gone by so quickly!

Friday, June 1, 2012

It's Been Awhile

Making paper beads in Mookane with the Support Group at the Clinic

Well, I’ve been really slacking on the blog.  It’s because I’ve been so busy…Surprisingly, I have been quite busy.  Projects and funding proposals and planning meetings for various camps have been filling up my days lately.  Over the past couple of weeks I wrote several letters to various local businesses asking them to help fund some small scale projects in my village; a soccer camp, a mural and a request to use the school premises for the preschool.  In the mean time I have been going to the clinic on Mondays as usual and beefing up my Setswana in between patients.  I am getting better at article usage now so maybe there is hope for me yet.    The rest of the week I have been going to meetings, dropping off the letters at the appropriate offices and helping to coach net ball.  What is net ball you ask?  I would say it is basically like a combination of basketball and ultimate Frisbee.  You pass like in ultimate Frisbee because you can’t dribble (no court, only dirt/sand) and then you shoot at the baskets.  Except there aren’t any nets or backboards and for some reason the baskets at my school are about 8 feet high (I think they either couldn’t get them deeper in the ground or gave up, but I doubt it is supposed to be that high for 9-12 year old kids) so basically it’s a lot of passing.  After that I run home and all the kids follow me and we do some stretching and have ice cold water at my house.  I have never appreciated the true glory that is ice cold water until coming here.  Or water in general for that matter; it really is the most valuable resource.  Over the weekends I have had several planning meetings for a couple GLOW (Girls Leading our world- female empowerment) Camps and earlier this month, I did a PACT (Peer Approach to Counseling Teens) Workshop in Werda.  The section I led at the workshop was about communication; we did a puzzle activity with various levels of communication, verbal, non-verbal etc. and had the students attempt to assemble the puzzle. 
I have also been on a hunt though-out Botswana in search of a VGA to USB cable.  This is so that I can hook up this tiny little projector to my pc so that I can play a couple videos about HIV transmission and SMC (safe male circumcision) at my clinic and then hopefully have discussions about them.  I think I have been to every technology related store (basically all in Gaborone) and not found a single one, although one of the store owners promised they would be in at the end of the month. 
Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to have a ‘shadow’, (when a Peace Corps trainee comes to stay with you for a week to see what it’s like to be a volunteer) who was absolutely wonderful. It was great to see her excitement and interest and it really helped to remind me why I am here and to re-energize me.  I spent the week showing her around my village and explaining what I do on a day to day basis.  It was interesting logistically to have someone stay in my house for an extended period of time due to timing bathing schedules (my ‘bathtub’ is under my coffee table in my one room house), but it all worked out.  That Thursday night we had a braii (a.k.a. BBQ) with all the teachers from my school and several other people I’ve worked with in the community.  It was a great time and a good opportunity to get to know all the teachers at my school in a more relaxed environment.  Chibuku was had by all.  After cleaning up the party a man walked up to my gate and asked if he could sleep in the yard because he was traveling to Mabutsane the next day and got stuck along the way (it was about 11pm), I said yes and offered him some leftovers.  The hospitality and safety in Botswana is amazing.  I think that the level of trust, comfort and community is a reminder of what we leave behind as we isolate ourselves more and more in the ‘digital age’. 
The following Tuesday I made a trip to Mabutsane to meet with the DAC officer (District Aids Coordinator) and the PEO (Principal Education Officer) for my district to get to know the people in charge and to check on the progress of some of the letters I sent as well as to see if I could get some money for future projects.  The following week I went to Mookane to visit another PCV, Marjorie and to work with a support group at her clinic.  We gave a workshop on female empowerment, money management and income generating projects followed by paper bead making.  I think the workshop was really successful and the women had a lot of great ideas about income generating projects they could develop in the community, they also had a good grasp of the importance of saving and shared many of their own struggles with money as women in the community and within their families. 
This week I worked at the clinic as per usual and met a girl that goes to school in Kang who was hoping to catch a lift with the doctors to Gabs because she was supposed to have her appendix taken out.  I’m not sure how accurate that description was given the language barrier, but either way I hope she made it there.  The more I read and the more I see, I believe that women are the key in improving living conditions in developing areas.  Women are more likely to put the money back into their families than men and less likely to spend all the income they gain on booze.  That probably sounds more on the negative end of the feminist spectrum and it’s not that I don’t think men can’t contribute a great deal to the improvement of communities but I think at the grassroots level, women are often over looked and they are often the ones that can contribute a great deal and reap the most benefits not just for themselves but for their families and community.
Tuesday afternoon I taught an ESL lesson to standard 2 about shapes and had the students race each other in shape identification, work as teams to find shapes and certain colors and then to create pictures as a team following specific instructions.  I think they had a lot of fun and it was helpful to see which areas they were really struggling with.  On Wednesday I met with a group of women to begin a sewing club which will possibly turn into a sewing co-operative, all depending on if I can get some money for additional fabrics and some start up income but I am looking into some government funding options for small businesses now so hopefully that all pans out.  In the afternoon I met with the Circles of Support group at school (a group of OVC’s, orphans and vulnerable children at school) and we discussed some projects we would work on next week and in the future.  I received some materials from Pam Shelton when I was collecting books in Maun to make puppets and I plan to have them work on some puppets and creating a show over the next month or so.  The students were also interested in working on some income generating projects (which I am a little wary of due to the whole child labor thing), but I think there are some government grants for agricultural projects that the students could use for subsistence and a marginal profit within the community.  This Friday is Teacher’s Day and I have another GLOW Camp meeting on Sunday, so a little rest and relaxation is on the way. 
In random personal news; I gave Stella away to one of my students and her family after she killed one of my landlady’s chickens.  If Stella kept going at that rate I don’t think it would be long before she was dead, dogs killing chickens is pretty frowned upon. The family takes good care of her and they live close to me (they also don’t have chickens in the yard) so I can see her on a regular basis.  That was sad but I think it will be for the best, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my relationship with my landlady.  I also got my internet turned off temporarily because I didn’t pay the bill.  To be fair though, they never sent it.  I received and paid the bill the first month I got it and haven’t paid anything since because I don’t have the bill to do it.  Now I have to travel to Gabs to go seek out the payment office, find out how much I owe and pay it.  There is also almost no incentive to pay it ever, you never incur late charges or anything.  I was also recently selected to help plan a Ministry of Education retreat for Life Skills volunteers.  We are working on selecting the topics and location now; I am hoping we go to Tuli Block or Kasane.  I am also looking forward to taking showers. I’ll also be home for a visit in a little over a month!