Saturday, December 8, 2012

Maggot Pancakes

Last night, as I was laying in bed, I heard a cockroach fly onto the top of my mosquito net so I quickly turned on my head lamp to locate the culprit. Indeed, he was right above me sitting on my net. I decided to flick it off so it would find its fate in my cat's mouth once it hits the floor. 1,2,3… flick! And then the most horrifying noise. I swear it screamed (turns out every website says they "hiss"). It made this awful sound and I was so mortified because the sound didn't stop when it hit the ground. I called my best friend here to complain and soon enough my cat either killed it or it ran outside… sweet dreams!

Then, this morning I roll out of bed around 7 am, after ignoring the rooster that has been beckoning me to greet the new day since 4:45 am. I give my kitty milk and turn to my cupboards to find ingredients for pancakes. Flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, egg, milk, oil…. I begin pulling things out and immediately decide today is an apple cinnamon pancake kind of day. Yum!

I open the flour and add the necessary amount into a plastic bowl and stare in utter disgust. Maggots. Yup, maggots in my flour. If only this was the first time this had happened! A few weeks ago, I found maggots in my flour when I was making cupcakes for a friend and all my co-workers said, "oh, boitshepo. They are food bugs!" No one else seemed concerned that I had maggots. With the first maggot sighting, I dumped my flour & bought new flour just a few days back. Turns out this one was maggot infested too… yikes. So much for pancakes!

I decide that today is a good day to do some deep cleaning, as it wasn't too hot in the morning. Another pleasant surprise… four dead cockroaches and one dead camel spider under my bed. REALLY!? I'm unwillingly sleeping with these creatures under my bed. Oh and don't forget the scorpion in the guest bed room.No thank you…Oh and three more cockroaches dead in my shoes in my closet. Fun fact: once a cockroach flips upside down, it can't turn itself over again so it dies… right there in my shoes (or under my bed… or in my bathtub… or my living room… or … or..)

OK… enough bugs. My little sisters from next door come over to color. Gao is nine years old & lovessssss coloring more than anything in the world. Ayanda is a baby who just turned one in September. I go about my cleaning and let them color at my dining room table. Not five minutes later I hear, "Uh… boitshepo!! " What do you know? Ayanda peed on my chair. So - on to my next cleaning task!

As Gao is helping me wash out the cushion on my chair, Ayanda is standing in my kitchen. She became quiet (which is a red flag for anyone who has spent time with kids) so I go inside to check on her, and there she is walking toward the door to greet me… with poop all over her shoes. After peeing on my chair, she decided pooping on my floor and walking in it would be a nice way to apologize.

Oh life… what else? This is a typical day for me. The absurdities are always creeping in somehow, and with an ounce of optimism, I'm usually able to grin and bear it. :o) I head out for my evening run to clear my mind & I'm reminded of all the beauty behind the bugs and feces I deal with on a daily basis. As the sun is going down, I'm greeted by warm smiles and people waving. I hear my name being called as I run down the roads throughout my village and I stop to check on a few of my good friends. Their children run around wearing my sunglasses, giggle and twirl in their princess dresses, and give me the Botswana "handshake" when I leave. Each interruption of my run brings a smile to my face and warms my soul…

And at the very end of my run, I come across one of my girls I used to coach at the Junior Secondary School. Despite the sweat pouring down my face, she embraces me with open arms and says, "Boitshepo! I hate when we're not in school. I miss you!" We proceed to walk hand in hand down the road (which is very normal around here) while she confides in me about her greatest struggles in life. She asks me to help her talk to her father about the dangers of alcohol and thanks me for teaching her to make good life decisions. As we walk past bar after bar on the way home, she tells me about her dream to become a nurse and the support she is giving to her older sister who is experiencing teenage pregnancy first hand.

This young girl who held my hand as I walked her home was unknowingly holding my heart as well. At such a young age, she is providing unconditional love and support to her elder siblings and parents and offering wisdom far beyond her years. She claims I helped her, but I think I simply empowered her to help herself. My heart was filled with joy as I dropped her off at home and continued running…

Maggots, cockroaches, scorpions, camel spiders, scorching heat, countless bug bites.. Whatever the complaint may be for the moment, I know that the good will always outweigh the bad. Every bit of discomfort is easily overlooked f I can make a difference in the life of just one person.

Love & Light,
TMV 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Never Alone


Unknown to all but a few of you, I have been suffering with the greatest internal struggle of my life throughout the past six weeks. I'm a stranger in my own body and often have difficulty trying to place a finger upon what's truly bothering me. I spend a lot of time in my head trying to figure things out, but each thought leads me wandering down a path of self destruction.

I knew before I set out to become a Peace Corps volunteer that times would be tough and I would face many challenges. The Peace Corps boasts that it is "the toughest job you'll ever love" and I can testify to the truth in that statement. There are moments I feel like giving up and coming home, moments when I feel like I'm not making a difference at all, and moments when I feel like I'm incapable of accomplishing anything worthwhile in my life. The moments come and go - and then I feel like I can be back in touch with my optimistic self. It's quite a rollercoaster though - and it hasn't exactly been much fun for me. It's nothing I want to write home about either..

Instead of turning to other people for help, I've turned inward like a true introvert would. Indeed, that's helpful in some circumstances, but fighting this internal battle alone is something that has left me confused and frustrated. I'm very aware of my strong support system, so why do I try to be the tough girl and tackle this on my own? It all comes down to ego. I want to be independent. I want to be able to do this alone.

But no one is meant to live life that way. And today, I had a beautiful reminder that no matter how much I internalize my problems, He hears everything. He hears my prayers. And He knows my heart.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Allow me to tell a story….

Meghan is a friend from high school - someone I didn't know very well at all. I can't tell you her parents names, how many siblings she has, or her favorite color. But I can tell you that I am an avid reader of her blog. I remember speaking with Meghan last year some time to tell her how excited I was for her adventures…. She is a part of The World Race. She is spending 11 months traveling the world, ministering to people about the love of Jesus. A remarkable way to spend some time!

I'm subscribed to her blog - and an email pops up with each new post. Today, I sat down to read her new post "Chicken and Jesus." Her posts always resonate with my soul, speak truth about the world around us, and more often than not, bring me to tears. She has an amazing way with words - and an even more profound impact on those around her. Anyway, I read her post, felt very inspired and moved by the content, and proceeded to check facebook. There, in my inbox, was a message from Meghan. And this is what she wrote:

Tate,

So the other day I was sitting on a bus across Africa and Jesus reminded me of you, He said "encourage her" and I was like yes, God I would love to... but then I forgot when I got off the bus. Then the other day I met a guy in the peace corp at the border of Malawi and Tanzania and again God reminded me of you telling me to encourage you... but then I got on the bus again and forgot. But then today I set up my tent on this hillside in the middle of Malawi. He was just loving on me because I really needed it (it is hard to be from home for so long... as I am sure you can relate, especially around Christmas). His love just reminded me of how beautiful he made my heart, even if I make mistakes. And I keep on making mistakes and the older I get the more aware of them I am, and the Devil is breathing down my back telling me I am unworthy of love.

Today our host family fed us chicken, chicken in Africa is pretty sketch (I am sure you have discovered this already) so after everyone else had chosen I went for what looked like the meatiest piece that was left. Well I took a little bite of it and soon discovered it was the neck... so I put it back the plate in attempt to exchange it out but everyone saw it and yelled about how gross it was and how immature it was to put a piece of chicken back that I had nibbled on. So I said I was sorry and that could be a non-piece (those pieces that don't really count as pieces because they are feet or a liver or something) well someone took it and ate it saying that I could easily eat the meat off it. It made me feel really stupid and for that whole rest of the day the Devil has been reminding me about that stupid piece of chicken, making me feel like Hitler himself. I got so down on myself, I felt like I just kept making mistakes and that I couldn't get my act together. I felt unworthy to be his servant or minister to anyone.

So in my attempt for relief I set up this tent under a big beautiful mango tree and God just reminded me that I have big, beautiful heart. That God is absolutely smitten with me. And I felt the weight lift off my shoulders, but He didn't stop there. I got this picture of this big beautiful boat on this sunny day sailing across the ocean. He said my love for you is so deep that you could sail across it. And so then I asked how wide and He gave me a picture of these massive mountains like in the Rockies, He said that as wide as the mountains were from peak to peak that his love was wider than that. And taller that the tallest Redwoods in California and longer than the Nile. He said that is how I love you.

I sat there astounded and feeling just so loved by such an incredible God.


And then He said tell Tate I love her like that, too.

So I tell you this story because God loves you a whole lot and He won't let me forget it. Even though I hardly know you, He loves you so much that He told me.
So it doesn't matter if you took a nibble of a chicken and put it back, or if lied or cheated or whatever, it doesn't matter because your heart is just so beautiful and He is just in love with you.He wants you to know that, inside and out.

I hope that this note blesses you instead of weirding you out.
May you drown in His love....
Meghan

Tears began flowing down my cheeks as I read her words. A blog post I had just read that spoke so sweetly to my heart - was also personally intended for me. Meghan and I have only exchanged a few brief words since her departure, so she isn't even aware of how closely I am following her adventures. She doesn't even know how her blog posts inspire me to walk closer to the Lord. She's unaware of all of it… and yet, here she is, going out on a limb to remind me that God loves me.

Her note really did bless me - and will continue to be with me for a long time to come. I copied down the blog in my journal so I will always remember this moment and this lesson - God loves us all more than we could ever fathom and we need to spread the message of love to others. I am more than enough in His eyes and I can't do everything alone - and today, I was reminded that I have never been walking alone on this journey.  He is always with me and by my side.

I am so grateful for Meghan sharing her story with me - my heart doesn't feel as heavy and my soul is filled with peace. God Bless You, Meghan. May you continue to spread love to people all over the world!

Love & Light,
TMV 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Overwhelming Gratitude


At the end of each day, I swing open the burglar bar gate, then the wooden door, place my bag on the chair, and drop my keys onto the kitchen table. Strong rays of sunshine combined with my never-ending to do list usually leave me exhausted and covered in a layer of sand. I say hello to my kitty, grab a glass of ice cold water, sit in front of the fan, and immediately press the cold glass  to my forehead in an effort to cool my overheating body. Sweat constantly drips from my brows and my filthy feet remind me of all the distance I've traveled in the village throughout the day.

I take a moment to reflect upon the days activities and reach out to grab two glass containers. One is labeled "take time to remember" and the other says "the moments that matter." The first container contains blank, folded up pieces of paper waiting to have something written on it to give it meaning. The second is of course, to contain my precious memories of all the things I love, appreciate, and give thanks for. It only takes a few moments to jot down the moments that brought a smile to my face that day, and I'll be so happy to have them written down in the years to come.

Somewhere along the line, I've become an avid fan of taking time to see life's little blessings. So, naturally, thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of all. It's a WHOLE DAY devoted to recognizing all that we've been given. I try my best to remind my loved ones how much I love and appreciate them all through out the year, but I admit that I'm human and I don't always find the time to really give them credit for all they do.

Joining the Peace Corps has been life changing and it's near impossible to put my finger on what has taught me the most. Leaving the comfort of home has taught me so much about myself, integrating into a new community on my own has taught me to have endless amounts of patience, motivating behavior change has taught me that development work isn't as romantic as it sounds.

Life is life no matter where you're at on the globe. People are people everywhere. There will always be someone who has it worse than you do, and in turn, there will always be someone who has it better than you do. There's something to be said about following your dreams and climbing your way to the top, but one thing that's certain to me is that you can't get anywhere without the people who support you.

I wouldn't be where I am today without you.

Thank you… to those of you who pray for my adventures.
Thank you… to those of you who respond to my emails in an effort to keep me informed.
Thank you…to those of you who don't respond to my emails because you are busy touching the lives of others.
Thank you…to those of you who call frequently to ask about the nitty gritty of my work.
Thank you…to those of you who send me photos of what you're doing back home.
Thank you…to those of you who help me see the light & lead me through the darkest of my days.
Thank you…to those of you who send letters, care packages, and love.
Thank you… to those of you who urge me to measure smiles instead of HIV transmission rates.
Thank you… to those of you who send me quotes, songs, and books to read to maintain my optimism.
Thank you… to those of you who make home seem much closer to me than it is.
Thank you… to those who yell at me when I'm being a sissy and complain about how frustrating work can be.
Thank you… to those of you who continue to believe in the work I am doing.

You all know who you are… thank you for you.


My heart is truly overwhelmed with gratitude. I am me because of you… because you love me, support me, and believe in me. Your faith and dedication helps me get through the worst of my days. I am beyond blessed to have established such a relentless support group in the states and I continue to find joy in my new family and friends in Botswana.

I feel very lucky to have genuinely kind and compassionate people in my life, sprinkled all over the globe. We're not so different you know… I mean, all of us around the world. People never cease to amaze me.

I pray that you can take some time on thanksgiving this year to really reflect upon all you've been given. Treasure your memories with your loved ones, give more hugs and kisses than you've ever imagined possible, and don’t be afraid to show people you love them. Time will not wait! Your blessings are abundant. Give thanks for each and every blessing… today & every day to come.

Love & Light,
TMV 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kitten Steps

Cute little Makibikibi

Yikes! It has been quite a quite the week with my poor kitty. I'm happy to say he is still alive, making progress, and taking teeny , tiny kitten steps.

After seeing the vet on Monday, he seemed to be a little more alert and I was so delighted to find that he ate a small amount of tuna on his own that evening .I went to sleep feeling a bit more hopeful, only to wake in the morning to find him without an appetite again. Monday evening was apparently giving me false hope because he quickly relapsed into zombie cat on Tuesday morning.

The vet in Hukuntsi has proven to be a very genuinely kind man. He phones each day to check on my kitty and worked with me to devise a new plan to treat my cat. As I've mentioned, access to medicine out on this side of the country is very difficult -- so, we decided to take the matter into our own hands. We needed penicillin for my cat and I just so happen to work at a clinic. Brilliant. 

He doesn't look too thrilled, but I'm
so happy he's ok! 
My beloved coworkers gave me penicillin (very obviously for humans), syringes, vitamin B tablets, and needles to help treat Kibi. Our pharmacist diligently calculated the correct dilution for my cat after referring to the recommendations from my vet. After several phone calls to confirm the treatment, I had the right medicine.

Remember the vet office in Kang that has no vet? Well, at least they have a vet tech assistant who knows how to do injections. I truly recruited all kinds of people to help and scavenged resources from all around the village to get my cat the injections he needed.

Kibi received three more penicillin injections on Friday & Saturday, and I'm happy to report he is acting more and more like himself. He has begun to walk again, although he is a bit disoriented still and stumbles on occasion. Food no longer disgusts him and he will eat small amounts when placed in front of him, instead of turning his head away. Milk appeals to him too and I was so overjoyed to see him sit and drink on his own.

He still has a long road of recovery in front of him, but I really hope the worst is in the past. His bones are quite prominent after such profound weight loss and dehydration, but he should be putting some weight back on as long as he continues eating. I saw him watching a bug last night too - it's the most alert I've seen him in over a week!

finally eating milk & tuna !
Despite all the obstacles in the way and people volunteering to brai (grill) my cat since he was not improving, I've managed to nurse him back to better health. He's not 100% yet, but I sure am glad to see his progress. And in addition to his improvement, I've had a heck of a time with cross-cultural conversations about pets in America. People were shocked to discover that cats purr - I explained that  it's an indication of when they're happy. No one had heard of that before.

I don't think we're too crazy as Americans. Pets become a part of the family for a reason - they love unconditionally, provide joy & remind us to be playful in our every day lives. Give some extra love to your furry friends back home! I'm so thankful for all the love & support I've received about Kibi too… we're both getting better each day!

Love & Light,
TMV  

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Inch Away from Death



It sounds really great to be able to say, "I'll leave behind my whole life as I know it to move to a foreign country. I'll be fine living on my own. No problem." I said those words as I boarded the plane in April, but as it turns out, I was lying to myself.

Before departing for Botswana, I remember reading a blog post from a Peace Corps Volunteer in another country who had a pet pass away during service. Immediately, I felt bad for this stranger who adopted a furry friend. Her words indicated her obvious heartache and I vowed to not let that happen to me during my own service in Botswana.

So much for that idea!

Away from any sort of familiar comfort, I couldn't help but feel the urge to get a pet. In the back of my mind, I always knew it could turn out disastrous (especially in a country where people don’t care about their animals the way Americans do). However, the voice of reason was overtaken by the offer to take a cute kitty off the hands of another Peace Corps Volunteer. Just under a year old, already vaccinated, fluffy, cute, and playful! Come on… I couldn't pass it up.

after giving kibi a bath
Enter Makibikibi. This sweet little kitty who I've taken to calling 'kibi' has completely stolen my heart. He can be very timid around strangers, but after a short time, we became good friends. I have gotten used to coming home and having him meow, begging for food. My family tells me my cat is "so fat & happy" and "he's the luckiest cat in Botswana" because I take such good care of him. Ok, so he's spoiled.

Everyone who knows me in my village knows I love my kitty. And yes, I may have become a crazy cat lady, but I dare say this can happen to anyone who becomes a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Well, my nice little life with my kitty came crashing down on Thursday. He stopped eating. His legs couldn't support him anymore. He fell while walking. He started breathing like he ran a marathon. His gums turned pale. He wouldn't drink water. He refused to do anything except lay limp on my bed, meowing every few hours.

My playful kitty turned into a very sick kitty in a short amount of time. Since I'm notoriously good at worrying, I put my cat into my Sherpa cat carrier and headed out for the vet office in my village hoping to find a doctor. Is it crazy to look for a vet at the vet office? The answer is yes. There was no vet to be found, only an assistant who explained to me that I would have to travel to a nearby village to find a vet (as there isn't actually a vet in vet office in kang - go figure). As I was getting ready to leave (and preparing myself to travel), they nonchalantly mention that the vet is away at a workshop in Gaborone until Monday.

kibi, just laying around my house 
I headed home to figure out what I was going to do, only to discover that his condition had gotten much worse. He started walking (stumbling) in circles, meowing like crazy, and walking into walls. He was panicking. And so I started to panic a bit too.

A dear friend here advised me to call a vet back in America for advice. Sounds crazy? Yup, it is crazy. But I had no idea what else to do. So we Skype her old vet office, explain the ridiculous situation that I found myself in, and ask for some advice. She was very calm and patient, explaining that she thought my cat was having heart failure. But since he wasn't an old cat, it could be asthma or some sort of infection. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot for me to do except keep him still, avoid putting him in situations that scare him, and force milk and water into his mouth to keep him somewhat hydrated.

spending time with kibi 
Despite my previous plan to travel for the weekend to visit some friends, I decided I needed to stay home to care for my kitty as best as I could. And let me tell you, it was an incredibly depressing weekend. My cat's health deteriorated by the moment and my heart broke every time I had to force feed him. Pets have a way of really pulling on your heart strings… Goodness! I can't lie, I cried a lot, feeling very helpless and unable to help my cat. I just prayed he would make it through the weekend!

Monday morning came around and I was so pleased to find my cat still alive. Would he be able to endure the rest of the adventure? I got all my things together and headed to the hitching post in my village to hitch a ride to the next village over, about 115 km. Luckily, I found ride right away in the back of a truck. We arrived in Hukuntsi around 9:30, headed to the vet's office right away, and found a very friendly man waiting to help me. Although he focuses mainly on livestock, I found that he was very careful and kind to my kitty. He informed me that he used to work a lot more with small animals and misses the opportunity to work with them more.

After a quick exam, he found my cat had a temperature of 39.3 C (102.74 F), muscle atrophy, rapid weight loss, dehydration, rapid breathing, and confusion -all of the symptoms I described on the phone. Since my cat had all his vaccinations including heart worm medication, the vet decided it must be a really bad bacterial infection. He was shocked at how bad my cat's health was and told me that my cat surely wouldn't have survived the weekend without the little bit of liquid I poured in his mouth. My little kitty was an inch away from death  - truly - and I'm so thankful we made it to the vet office in time.

He gave two injections - an antibiotic and a drug to clear the body of toxins - to try to help my cat fight off whatever was killing him. The vet even mentioned how difficult it was for him to find enough muscle for the injection - my cat was losing muscle mass quickly!  Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot I can do now except wait… and hope that it's not more than an infection.
kids crowded around the car door to see my cat 
I hitched a ride back to my village, stopped along the way to drop other people in other villages, greeted some school children who couldn't help but stare at my cat, and arrived home around 3 PM. I really despise being in situations where you can't help someone or something you love… so I'm grateful to have been able to get my cat the most help I could today. I hope that this is the closest I become to writing a depressing blog post about losing a pet during service. I'll keep nurturing little kibi to help him get back to the cat I used to know… and I'll do my best to stay emotionally stable in the meantime.

That's what is dominating my life the past week! As the rest of America worries about the elections, I'll be worrying about keeping my cat alive. More later about other topics :o)

Love & Light,
TMV 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Visit from the Travel Bug


About a month ago, a Peace Corps Volunteer who lives near me sent me a text message asking me if I'd be willing to give a man a place to stay for the night when he passed through Kang. He was also a guest staying at her place, as they had arranged his accommodation in Motokwe through Couch Surfing. If you're unfamiliar with Couch Surfing, check out the website here. It's a great idea & of course, I'm a registered Couch Surfer too.

I agreed to allow him to stay at my house as he went about his journey in Botswana and upon his arrival, I could tell he had seen a lot in life. His name is Scott and he came to Botswana with the idea of biking across the entire country. When I asked him why he decided to bike across Botswana, his response was, "Because all of the guidebooks say you shouldn't do it."

Talk about adventurous! Scott was a very pleasant guest and I was happy to have him stay in Kang. I took him around to see the local clinic where I work, the few shops we have to purchase food and other items, and discussed a few cultural beliefs. It's amazing to see how much I actually know about Botswana and the culture when I'm talking to someone new to the area…

We made a delicious meal, watched "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" with my sisters, and stayed up the whole evening looking at pictures from his adventures and swapping stories about life.

I was amazed at all the things he has done and seen throughout his life. Each picture was more beautiful than the next and of course, each was accompanied by a delightful story. My heart was so content listening to this man - hearing how much of the world he had experienced with of his own five senses. What an amazing joy!

He asked plenty of questions about what I'm doing in the Peace Corps as well - and part of me began itching to travel around the world without any restrictions. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jealous of all the countries he had traveled to…

Scott and I enjoyed breakfast together in the morning, packed his bags with food, and said our final goodbyes. He was off to his next destination and enjoying the journey along the way.  I truly love how a stranger can become a friend in such a short time!

After I watched him bike away from Kang, my head started spinning with different thoughts about traveling the world and making an impact. As he biked away toward the unknown, I found myself walking into the clinic where I will be every day for the next year and a half. My life seemed a little mundane from that perspective. However, after some time, I realized how fortunate I am to have the best of both worlds.

I am still young. I can still travel, explore, and play in other countries. I'm able bodied, fortunate to come from a good background, and full of energy and enthusiasm. The world will continue to be my playground for many years to come and there's no reason to be jealous of Scott's adventures. It's his time to play and explore… my time is yet to come.

Now is my time to really participate in something incredibly unique. The Peace Corps allows me to become integrated into a community, love a host family like they are my own, and learn about all the cultural norms. There are events I am welcome to attend that a tourist would never have the chance to see. People confide in me with their issues on a level I could never establish as an outsider. My time now is to fully appreciate the opportunity I have been given because not many people are given this kind of chance. 

Upon my original application to the Peace Corps, I always knew that was what I was looking for. A chance to really get to know people, to become a part of their lives, and to help them with whatever they need. I knew that then and I know that now.

Scott & I before his departure from Kang

It's just that sometimes, when your mind begins to wander, it's easy to become jealous of all the play and travel that others get to do. I couldn't be happier for Scott - and wow, does he have great stories to tell. I'd really like to encourage you to check out his blog. Some of his entries are very long, but this one is particularly about biking across Botswana. Check it out!

Adventures come in many shapes and sizes. My adventure for today is to fully absorb all the Peace Corps is offering me - and whenever possible, I plan to fill more of my life finding adventure across the globe.

Love & Light,
TMV 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Smell of Death



Skeletons are easy to find in the desert!
Living in the desert has been quite a different experience from living next to the Rocky mountains. The land is arid and flat. I've grown accustomed to seeing the sky around me in every direction. There are no more mountains to use as a landmark, hence the reason why I don't have a great sense of direction anymore. North, south, east, and west all seem to blend together unless I take the time to realllllyyyyyy stop and think about it. 

My village is smack dab in the middle of the Kalahari Desert which creates a whole variety of issues for any living creature out here. Sand covers the land in Kang, sharp thorns bury themselves in the sand awaiting the next victim, and during the summer months the sand feels similar to lava. I'm yet to discover much to love about the sand. 


Water shortages occur on a weekly basis and the water will be out completely anywhere from a few hours to almost a week. People store water while the precious resource is around to utilize during the dry periods. But what about the animals? 



Dead donkey found in my village 
Livestock dies on a daily basis. There isn't nearly enough water to supply livestock with water during times of drought, so animals will start to wither away and die in the desert. Encountering entire carcasses, limbs of an animal, or the picked apart skeleton seems like a normal part of my every day life. One day, I found five dead donkeys, a dead cow, and a few dead chickens around my village as I was going about my normal routine. I hope that I never see more than that in a single day... 

My least favorite part about all of this is the stench. Birds flock from all around to peck out the eyeballs, pick apart the bodies, and feed on the dead animals. Carcasses lay around for days and weeks at a time, rotting in the harsh African sun. It's easy to tell when a dead animal is around; I always smell it before I see it. The sun here is so brutal and the breeze is a foreign friend. However, when the breeze does come around, it brings the smell of death with it. It's an unbelievably horrendous smell that I hope no one else has to experience; the smell lingers in your nose and reminds you of how precious life really is. No water? No life. 


Thank goodness I'm able to find and store water for myself during these dreadfully hot summer months, but the poor animals aren't quite as fortunate. 


Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Countdown is Over


As I prepared to leave the United States, each tear I shed was a painful reminder of the reality I was facing: I was going to devote the next 26 months on my life to service in the Peace Corps. 26 months away from friends and family, 26 months away from everything I've ever known.

I remember laying in my room at my mom's house in the weeks before my departure and staring at the walls around me. There was a large world atlas hanging above my desk and regardless of my mood, just one glance at the map was enough to make me weep. My eyes flashed from Colorado, my precious home, over an entire ocean to an unknown country, Botswana. The sheer distance on the map created an extreme amount of anxiety and fear.

I was leaving my whole life I created in the States to venture out into the unknown.  Sounds romantic, I know, but once you actually take the steps to move forward, it can be overwhelming to digest. Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer has been an incredible challenge, to say the least, but somehow I've gotten past most of the pity parties and sleepless nights and I find myself today at remarkable check point:

I've been in Botswana for six months!

I find myself wondering how I've been here for a half a year already - but when I take a moment to reflect about just how far I've come, the six months seem to make sense.

Upon arrival, the new culture overwhelmed me and I never knew the right things to say or the proper way to act. I had no sense of the cultural norms, I could barely utter hello in Setswana, and I didn't understand much at all about the political system. To put it bluntly, I didn't know much of anything when I stepped foot into this country. I was just a bright-eyed, over-achieving American woman.

Oh, how things have changed.

Thanks to the Peace Corps staff and my fellow peers, we were drilled with information for the first several  months about language, cultural integration, and skills development. My mind was overloaded with new ideas, opinions, and tactics to approach any situation. With all my new information, I settled into site, found a way to apply my recently acquired knowledge, and developed relationships with people that will last a lifetime. A timid and apprehensive young woman stepped onto the plane in the States, but I'm confident that a new woman will be returning home in 2014.

I'm not the same woman I was six months ago, which most people would expect to hear. But what amazes me to this day is that I will never be able to fully express my transformation to anyone, regardless of how many words and phrases I use.

Living in Botswana has opened my eyes to a whole new world of understanding and appreciation. I have the ability to teach people that humanity has more similarities than differences. People unveil their hearts to me about problems they are facing and situations where they could use my assistance. Rural environments force me to look at my personal behavior and lifestyles. Medical cases in the clinic help me see what's absolutely essential and how much money we waste on western medicine. Parenting styles make me question my morals and beliefs about how to raise children to be respectful, caring individuals. Educational systems create questions in my mind about inequality and access to a better life.  Unique opportunities are presented to me on a daily basis and everything I once knew has been questioned. I am pushed each day to evaluate who I am and how to become a stronger woman to serve the people in my village.

Someone once told me, "the days will be slow, but the years… they will fly." I believe that this will be the case for the entirety of my service and I've already found that my countdown is over. I'm no longer counting down the months until I'm going home. Now, I find myself counting up from the day I arrived. "I can't believe I have been here for six months, I only have 20 months left."  I'm well aware that 20 months is a decent chunk of time, but with the way that things have been going on this side, I am certain that the time is going to be slipping away quickly.

I'm afraid to blink and miss any of the beauty I am surrounded by, so at my six month mark, I'm making a point to become fully aware of the importance of each new day. Life is patiently waiting for us to open our eyes and embrace the beauty hidden amongst the chaos. Each day is a gift and an opportunity to look back and reflect upon just how far you've come… Stop counting down to the next "big event." Immerse yourself in the present moment and find joy in life  as it is now.

Six months has come and gone in a hurry. The next twenty are going to do the same. Now is my time to stop counting down to my homecoming in 2014 and use the present moment to focus on all that I want to accomplish as an individual. I want to do as much as I can, while I still can. Nothing in life is guaranteed and I owe it to myself and those around me to live in the present.

I've come so far in six months - I can't wait to see what the rest of my service has in store for me!

Love & Light,
TMV 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Family Affair



I'm back-tracking now to relive my aunties wedding on August 18, 2012. My auntie is named Kolobetso, but people tend to call her Kolo (sounds like  co-low). She was getting married to Moremi, the father of her youngest daughter.

Since my arrival in June, the family had been preparing for the wedding and I got to take part in all of the wedding planning festivities. Trust me when I tell you that weddings in Botswana are a much bigger ordeal than in the United States! It's an entire family affair.

Extended family and friends began arriving in Kang on Thursday and everyone's hands were busy working on one task or another to prepare for the big event on Saturday. Our yard was overflowing new faces, but despite the unfamiliarity, almost everyone was sporting a giant smile and cheerful spirit. I could feel the energy, love, and anticipation building around the ceremony to unite two people in holy matrimony. And can you imagine? People will sleep in the same houses, all in a row, just to stay together as family. I offered my house for people to stay - and still, the idea of cramming people like sardines into sleeping spaces on the floor sounds a bit more ideal. I couldn't argue with the sentimental value behind that…

On Friday morning, two of my Peace Corps volunteer friends arrived to soak in the cultural experience. Along with the rising sun, all the elders met at 6:00 am to have the lebola negotiations. Lebola is known as the bride price and it is usually set around 8 cows, depending on the families. Only married people are allowed to attend the negotiations, and both families will discuss the lebola and who will be receiving cows. I loved seeing the cows outside my yard - and of course, I love them as a vegetarian- and it made me sad they made the long journey to come to my village just for the elders to decide who eats them. Poor things… they had no idea!

Around 9:00, we all headed over to the kgotla (think town hall, but this is where the chief holds meetings) where we were to witness the exchange of rings and signing the marriage contract. Most of this meeting was in Setswana, but I managed to have people translate bits and pieces for me. They also take a vow in front of the kgosi (the village chief) and the remainder of the day is dedicated to preparing all of the last minute things for the ceremony on Saturday.

Everyone woke up bright and early on Saturday to begin cooking and decorating the wedding tent. It is customary for weddings to be held at the place of residence for the bride, and on a separate weekend, it will be held at the place of residence for the groom. These ceremonies occur in their home villages (or home towns) so that loved ones can participate in the ceremony. Wherever the ceremony occurs, a tent is used to hold guests and they can make any tent look quite fancy! Take a look…


As mentioned in a previous post (see Tying the Knot), the wedding party changes their attire several times throughout the ceremony. I still don't understand the importance behind this - because it is very costly- but nonetheless, my home ended up being the dressing room for the wedding party. I had men and women flooding in and out of my house changing, applying make-up, and looking in the mirror. Yes! You look great :o) Everyone is very proud of how well they are dressed on the day of the wedding.

My family had me fitted for a traditional Tswana dress, and oh my goodness gracious, I can't even tell you how excited people in the community were when they saw the lekgoa (foreigner) wearing their typical attire! The tailor didn't finish my dress until the evening of the wedding, but people were still very happy to see the dress make an appearance the day of the wedding. I really love my dress … and the best part? Built in shoulder pads. The 80's live on in Botswana!




The day was a complete success - the bride & groom were captivating, my friends were thoroughly entertained, and I was reminded, yet again, of the beautiful village I am living in. The hearts of the people in this family are overflowing with kindness.

As I'm writing this post, my two sisters are looking over my shoulder to read about our stories. Our lives are becoming so beautifully intertwined - and just as Kolobetso & Moremi had a wedding to celebrate their love - I find myself celebrating my love for the people in my community each and every day.  

Love & Light, 
TMV 


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Home is Where the Heart is


After spending eleven days in Gaborone (the capitol) for In-Service Training (IST), I couldn't have been any happier to get off the bus and step foot in familiar territory. Gabs seems like a BIG CITY to me now in comparison to where I have been living. It isn't even a large city by American standards, but it's funny how much my perspective has changed after living out in the middle of nowhere. The bustling khombis, shopping malls, and unfriendly people overwhelmed me and left me missing home.

Of course, it was incredible to catch up and spend time with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers  at IST, but I was so delighted to see my village at the end of it all. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to fully describe my "roller-coaster" ride with the Peace Corps (and really, a roller-coaster sounds too fun and light-hearted to truly capture everything). IST brought light to many different issues in Botswana - ones that I won't go into detail about now - and it left me with a whirl wind of emotions.

Am I here at the right time in my life? Can I truly make a meaningful impact in my service? Am I working as hard as I could be to implement community projects? Does anyone appreciate what I'm giving up in order to be here? And on and on and on and on….
 
You get the idea.

With all the thoughts floating around in my head on my six hour journey back home, I was positive that I was going to start losing my mind. Or my patience.

As I got off the bus and hauled all my bags along the sandy path, I was greeted by laughing children running to me with open arms. And my smiling grandmother. And my purring kitty-cat. And mail from loved ones back in the states.  And a beautiful African sunset.

It's an incredibly relieving feeling to be sleeping in my own bed again, greeting people in the streets by their first names, and walking everywhere I need to go. I missed my peaceful life without electricity and somehow I wasn't angered by yet another water shortage upon my arrival. I'm happy to be boiling my water again for my baths & I enjoy hearing people speak Sekgalagadi all throughout the village.

Although Kang is  rural, in the middle of the Kgalagadi desert, and isolated from many resources… I can't think of anywhere else in Botswana I'd rather be. Of course, other Peace Corps volunteers see exotic wildlife in their backyards - but I wouldn't trade my donkeys and chickens for any other village. The people in my community make all the difference in the world and their friendship and hospitality have created a large support network for me here.

And as they say, home is where the heart is… and my heart is truly in Kang, Botswana.
 

It's so good to be home <3

Love & Light, 
TMV




Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Definitions of Normal


My new definitions of normal… just to name a few. I'm sure I'll continue adding to the list as time goes by, but I want you to hear all about these now now.

  • Holding hands while talking
Gender doesn't matter. Neither does age. Just hold hands! Men hold hands, women hold hands, men & women hold hands…. It's just what you do. Don't lace your fingers though, that's just weird. And uncomfortable for everyone involved. But don't be rude! Hold hands when you are having important conversations with people or you want to show them your support. I've grown to love this!

  • Interrogative words at the END of a sentence
It's truly a strange phenomenon here in Kang. I'm not sure I completely understand it, but I do know that I catch myself phrasing questions in my head the same way now. And just to clarify, these statements are said in English… I'm not translating from Setswana or Sekgalagadi.

"You are going where?"
"You were at the post office to send what?"
"Your siblings are how many?"
"The report was given to who?"
"Our meeting will begin when?"

  • Sand = Dr. Scholl's
Kang is in the middle of the Kgalagadi Desert, so of course, sand has become a familiar friend of mine. I used to take the time to dump the sand piles out of my shoes as I was walking, but I've quickly discovered that if I DON'T dump the sand out, the sand will begin to accumulate beneath the arches of my feet. No thanks Dr. Scholl's, I'm doing just fine here in the desert AND I'm saving money.

  • Saving water to flush
Water outages are becoming more and more common here in Kang, so I have learned to take advantage of water while it is flowing. I save water to drink when the water goes out & more importantly, I save enough water to fill the toilet to flush. Trust me, this is an critical lesson to learn as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

  • The Spider Stomp/Smack
As many of you know from a recent blog post, I have encountered some pretty gross looking spiders (p.s. NO ONE in this community claims to know what kind of spider I killed after they saw the picture… but it sure did make me feel better when they said they would have killed it too!).  There are some spiders here that Peace Corps Volunteers like to call "flatsies" because, well, they are really flat. They're BIG, but they're flat. And they kill bugs. Ok, fine, they can stay. But I still don't enjoy seeing them.

SO, I've learned that whenever I open cupboard drawers or move something from where it used to be sitting, I do the spider stomp/smack. It's really quite  self explainable, but it's become like second nature to me.

  • Overemphasizing statements
After a while, I've learned about how much the Batswana like to emphasize things they say. "It's cold cold" or "that's far far". Silly, perhaps, but I've learned to do the same. The most common one I've heard is "now now", but really, chose any word to repeat & people will be pleased. 

  • Knocking off
When I am leaving work, I'm knocking off. It's what everyone says. Strange and yet, so normal.

And just to bring everything full circle…
"You knock off at what time?"

  • Name games
Imagine someone calling your name whenever they see you; when they walk past your desk, when they see you across the street, when you're running, etc. Sometimes people want to have a full conversation, other times they might look at you like you're crazy for coming to talk to them. Often they are just acknowledging your presence... It's a game. They call your name at all times throughout the day - and it's a up to you to try to figure out whether or not to try to engage in conversation. Great fun!

  • Nice is the only adjective in the world
There is simply no other adjective in the world that compares to the word "nice." It's just the nicest word there is.

"How's the day?" You have two options here… 1)"it's nice" 2) "it's just ok"
--> p.s. they both mean your day is going well, it's not like what you would say to your boyfriend/husband when they screw up
"The food is nice."
"Oh it's very very nice!"
"The movie was nice."

You get the idea.

It's nice not to waste space in my brain with all these big, fancy words I learned at university. ---> Ha. I just made myself laugh. I didn't even do that on purpose.

  • Pens are powerful
If I have a pen, people want to be my friend. Because they lost theirs. Or don't care to find it. Either way, I gain a lot of new "friends", but after a short time, I've figured out that those friendships are one sided. The pens often don't return… they end up in the Botswana Black Hole for pens. And soon enough, I have to go make new friends of my own because when I'm pen-less, I have no power in making friends. 

That's all for now now! I'm procrastinating writing my report that's due next week :o) Love to each & every one of you!

Love & Light,
TMV