Saturday, April 28, 2012

Adventure is worthwhile in itself.

“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” – Amelia Earhart

Wow! I week has flown by already. It’s Friday night & I am typing up my blog update to upload Saturday afternoon when I get to an internet cafĂ©. Where to start… the days are all blurring together because my routine is so insanely busy! I like the quote, “Adventure is worthwhile in itself” because despite my every effort to explain my experiences to you, I will ultimately be the only one who knows every detail of my adventure in Peace Corps Botswana. I plan on sharing my cultural experiences, challenges, and accomplishments throughout my years here, but I am confident that even the few weeks I have been in Botswana have been well worth the wait. Within the past three weeks, I have learned incredible amounts about culture, self-growth, and independence. Every step of this journey has been worthwhile… Here are some new updates to keep you up to speed with my life!

Host Family- everything is still going exceptionally well and I am still feeling very lucky to live with such a great family. Isago, who I mentioned in my last post, has become quite the side kick. Her nick name is Babona, and she has taken to helping me with just about everything. She wants to help wash my clothes (wish I learned how to do last Sunday- it is quite the CHORE!), do my homework (or color on it), brush my teeth (she turns the water on and off), and when I eat anything, she wants to be eating the same thing. :o) She makes me laugh, and at the end of the long day, hugs from cute kids really do help with the homesickness. Mama and Papa have been very busy trying to help me with homework as well. We are all learning the ins and outs of how to comfortably live together, and everything is flowing smoothly.

Church- In church last weekend, the bishop brought me to tears (tears of JOY!). He started preaching (in both English & Setswana) and telling everyone that the greatest teaching in the bible is to love one another. He asked people to start listing ways we love each other currently, and after people shouted out some things, he asked if anyone else had any ideas. He called attention to Claire & I (she’s another Peace Corps Volunteer who was there with me) and told everyone that we were a great example of the love of Jesus Christ. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s still a very touching story. He explained to everyone that although we were here to serve the Batswana (that’s how you say the people of Botswana), it was important to understand all that we had given up to come here. He said, “these women flew over night, in a plane over the ocean to come to Africa to serve your people. They left behind everything they once knew in life, all of their family, loved ones, and friends… just to serve your people.” It wasn’t necessary at all for him to speak so highly of us in front of the church, so naturally, I cried at the unexpected praise. It touched my heart, and it is definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life. Saying good-bye to all of you was the most difficult thing I have ever done, and I am hoping that my service here will be equally as rewarding.

Kgotla Meeting- I forgot to mention going to the Kgotla Meeting the last time I updated my blog. Every village has a kgosi, or a chief, and the village is further divided into wards. Every ward will then have a separate kgosi who serves under the main kgosi. The kgosi holds meetings at the kgotla, which is similar to what you would think of as a court room (although the building/amenities are much different). Anyway, the kgosi oversees everyone is the area and is responsible for holding all community members accountable for their behavior. It is customary for all guests to pay a visit to the kgosi, so our group of Peace Corps volunteers went to meet him. There is a strict dress code for both men and women inside the kgotla – men must wear dress slacks, shoes, and a sport coat while women must wear long skirts and dresses with something to cover their arms. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to meet community members and explain what we are doing with the peace corps. It’s refreshing to learn about such a rich culture!

Cultural Experiences- The culture of Botswana is very interesting and challenging. The complexities of the traditions make it difficult to understand but it creates a wonderful opportunity for observation and inquiry. Here is a list of a few things I’ve learned/loved/noticed:

o Lebola-  Of all the people who are eligible, only about 20% of the Batswana will become married. This crazy statistic is due to lebola which is the price a man has to pay to marry a woman. If a man plans on marrying a woman, he must present the bride’s family with eight cows to honor the family for raising the woman he loves. Most men are unable to come up with the money for eight cows, so couples will often date for many, many years without getting married. If you tell men here that you are worth 50 or even 100 cows, they are sure to leave you alone! :o) Weddings are often four day events here as well. I walked past a wedding ceremony on my way home the other day and the eight cows were in a corral, and one was recently slaughtered and hanging on the fence to feed everyone who came to celebrate. The culture here surrounding weddings, funerals, etc. is much different than back home!
o Cursing- we have recently found out the cursing is against the law in Botswana. Depending on the area you are in, if you are brought up for cursing, the kgosi can authorize two lashes for the poor behavior. It’s good incentive for all of us to keep our speech clean! We all want to be a good example for the people around us.
o Phone- On my walk home from Peace Corps activities, the school children are walking home too. Three girls, around high school age, have all really bonded with me. Theo, Pearl, and Bame will walk and chat with me for long periods of time, until the sun goes down and I need to return home. I love chatting with them, both in English and in Setswana. They have requested that I take all three of them home with me to America, because they all think life is so much better there. Funny story- they asked me to show them my phone here, and I pull out my Nokia brick phone. They laughed so hard, and explained how funny it was to see a white “rich” American with the cheapest phone available in Botswana. That’s when they finally agreed that I have no money, and not all Americans must be rich. I really enjoy finding teaching moments to explain misconceptions about the American way of life. I am most definitely not rich!
o Ketchup- I don’t think I mentioned this on my past blog post, but ketchup is SUCH A BIG DEAL HERE. It’s not called ketchup, it’s tomato sauce (much fancier name, right?). The food tends to be very bland at times, so to overcome that challenge, Batswana put tomato sauce on all kinds of food. Rice and tomato sauce is quite common! Although it made me feel sick to think of ketchup on everything, you start to embrace it. I’m become quite accustomed to mixing ketchup into various foods for more flavoring. It isn’t really something we would ever think of doing back home- try it out if you’re brave!

Site Visit- On May 7, I will be leaving for a full week to go shadow a current Peace Corps volunteer to experience life as a volunteer. I just recently found out that I will be shadowing someone in the northern part of the country, which is both exciting and scary. This is the first time we will have to practice using public transportation on our own, and the northern district is many hours away by bus. We have practiced learning about transportation in Setswana, so I’m sure it will all go well. The country is divided into two sections by the “malaria line” and the region I will be traveling to will be in a malaria risk area. This means I will begin taking malaria medication this upcoming Monday, a week before I leave. I am hoping that the malaria medication settles well with me, because many people are known to have side effects from the medication. Excitement trumps all of the fear because the northern region of the country is supposed to be beautiful. I am looking forward to seeing a different part of the country, and I will let you know more about my site visit as the information becomes available.

Readings- I have been reading Saturday is for Funerals since I’ve arrived here, and for those of you interested in a really good read about the culture of HIV/AIDS specifically in Botswana, this is a great book to pick up. I ordered a copy on Amazon before I left for six bucks or so… definitely worth reading if you have the time. It really does an amazing job of describing the culture and science behind the HIV/AIDS epidemic here.

New pet, Makibikibi- I am a new pet owner! How fun, right? One of the volunteers who is getting ready to go back to the states in June has offered to sell me her cat. His name is Makibikibi and he is fairly little- he was just fixed and received all of his shots. He will live with her until I am ready to leave to my new site, and then I get to take my new kitty friend home with me! I am looking forward to the comfort of a pet once I get out to site by myself. Hurray! Maggie sends me frequent updates about how he is doing- too cute – and she is thankful to leave her kitty in good hands.

Comfort Foods- All of the PC volunteers went into the capital city, Gabarone, to open our PC bank accounts. Best part of the trip? We got to eat pizza!! Cheese isn’t easily accessible or affordable here, so having pizza was such a treat. Often, if I’ve had a long day, I’ve found that a cup of tea and a spoonful of peanut butter help to lift my spirit. My family here laughs and says Peanut Butter is a vegetarian comfort food for Americans and if I ate meat, it would be hamburgers and fries. :o)

Support- Thanks for all the continued love and support! It helps me get through the tough times. Receiving letters in the mail, email in my inbox, or hearing a familiar voice on the phone helps MUCH more than you know! I love you all so much for supporting me in my adventure to follow my dreams. Love love love!

I will write again as soon as I can. Lots of love!
Love & Light,

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dates I cannot travel/have visitors

Important Training Dates
**Personal travel must be planned around these dates**
·         Pre-Service Training (PST): April 12-June 12, 2012
o   Swearing in: June 12, 2012
·         In-Service Training (IST): August 20-27, 2012
o   Arrival: August 19, 2012
o   Departure: August 28, 2012
·         Regional Meetings:
o   February 15-17, 2013 – Molepole& Francistown
o    February 22-24, 2013 – Kanye& Maun
·         Mid-Service Training (MST): June 24-26, 2013
o   Arrival: June 23, 2013
o   Departure: June 27, 2013
o   Medical for those far from Gabs 27, 28, Depart June 29, 2013
·         Regional Meetings:
o   February 14-16, 2014 – Molepole& Francistown
o   February 21-23, 2014 – Kanye& Maun
·         Close of Service Conference: March 10-12, 2014
o   Arrival: March 9, 2014
o   Departure: March 13, 2014
o   Medical for those far from Gabs 13, 14, Depart March 15, 2014
·         Close of Service Date: June 12, 2014

Other random adventures....

 I wanted to leave a list of random/funny/strange moments in hopes of sharing a part of my life here with you. Things here often remind me of loved ones back home, so I have included notes about that too!
·         Food consumption-  it is a cultural norm for people to eat three big meals a day. I’m not a huge meal eater- I like to snack, despite what my friends from the Office of Diversity think :o) and I often have to explain that I simply cannot eat what’s in front of me. A lot of it has to do with me being a vegetarian because they think I am starving myself. I am fed so much food here!
·         Kitchen messes- The kitchen, as I have described, is often a huge mess. Pots and pans, food scraps, ant friends, etc. I can’t wait to show you pictures. The Classen family is off the hook for dirty kitchens, or should I say, Lizzy is off the hook for creating the messiest kitchen :o)
·         CODO, my teddy bear & my lucky frog-lizzy gave me a teddy bear before I left and named it codo. It’s the beginning/end of Colorado (such a perfect name)! my lucky frog is very fragile glass, and I’m happy to say that they both successfully made it to Botswana. All my trainees and family know about my stuffed/glass friends – small comforts make a huge difference when I am half way across the world!
·         Washing my feet- this makes me think of kenzie. My feet are insanely dirty here, every single day. I have made it a part of my daily routine to wash my feet before bed because there is no way I would be okay slipping under the covers with feet caked with dirt! The dirt here is super red as well, so it gets on everything. Kenzie, you should be proud!
·         Pictures- I have pictures hanging in my room of friends/family, but here are my three favorites
o   Picture of my dog-Isago, the three year old, says, “Auntie, why are you hugging the dog?” No one here loves dogs/cats. They laugh and say we treat our animals like humans. Isago laughs when she sees the picture, because in her mind, why would that ever happen?
o   Picture of my dad in the hospital – As many of you may know, my dad was in a horrible accident a week before I left for this adventure. I have a picture of my dad and I while he is in the hospital and he is hooked up to all kinds of machines. Isago is laughing at all my other pictures and stops when she sees that one. She asks me why my dad is sick & kisses his picture over and over again. It melted my heart. Every day she asks, “Auntie, how is your papa?”. Thinking of you daddy, I hope you are healthy and well! Xoxoxo
o   Picture of my mommy – my host mama comes in my room to see the picture of my mommy. She rants and raves about how beautiful my mommy is- she can’t believe you possibly have children! I tell her how blessed I am to have a beautiful loving mommy at home, and she says to tell you she’ll take care of me. :o)
·         Toilet seats- while there seem to be a lot of toilets around here, I am yet to find a toilet with a toilet seat. Odd? I think yes. Oh, and don’t forget your own TP, otherwise you’ll have a whole new issue.
·         Favorite snack = peanut butter – man, oh man. There’s nothing like a comfort food from back home. I was pleased that peanut butter was provided to the families (along with other things) hosting volunteers. Tanner- all is well with PB on a spoon. I’ve even decided that the best snack is PB on a spoon sprinkled with sugar and instant coffee. It may be the best on-the-go-pick-me-up snack ever created. Nom, Nom.
·         Children- Anyone under the age of 26? Is still considered a child. Wahoo! I am a kid again. Sorry, parents! However, it is a cultural norm for children to be quiet around their elders. It is not customary for a child to ask about the condition of someone older than them. That’s nice when you’re learning language because I’m unable to ask direct questions, however, I can see it as a problem when I am trying to work on my project. As a child, it will be much more difficult for them to view me as a professional counterpart.
·         Parenting/similarities –Isago sucks on her pointer finger, rather than her thumb and she really enjoys the game of “putting me in jail.” Sound familiar, Arissa? Kids can be so similar, even in such different places. Some of the children here are wonderfully behaved, and others, not so much. It’s difficult being an outsider because I’m used to being involved in raising children. I miss the Forrester family so much! Give Kai and Quinn kisses for me… Kudos to all the parents back home (the Greens too!) for all the hard work in parenting. It isn’t easy anywhere!
·         Yoga-we have several people here who do yoga and they have been teaching other trainees. I’m quite the beginner, but I am loving it! Kater- if you ever get the chance, send me some yoga info and an update about your interview/application!
·         Sunglasses- Jason, you should be pleased to know I am trying to wear sunglasses as often as possible. I miss you and your paranoid optometry rants!
·         Singing songs- Kelsey, Mia & other camp friends, I wish you could be here to see some of the cool songs/dances/moves the kids have! They may not compete with the little red wagon, but nonetheless, I enjoy singing them with the kids.
·         Chickens, Goats & Donkeys -  revere, let me just tell you, the animals here aren’t loved as much as yours! I wish you could build them nice little homes. :o) They are EVERYWHERE!
·         Termite mounds- sheesh! Michael, you weren’t kidding. They are huge! I am yet to see any little ones nearby them, but I am terrified to go near them. They seem pretty if you ignore the gross creepy crawly things inside…
·         Marriage proposals- men here will propose on the spot to American women- although I haven’t had that happen yet. I have had the request of bringing more of my American friends to Botswana to marry here, but I assure them my friends are very taken. Love you Hails and Critter &Kenze, keep me updated on wedding plans!
o   To avoid marriage proposals- all you have to say is “kenalemonna”, meaning I have a man. :o) MAC! Ke rata thata.I love you very much

Love & Light, 

Host Family Adventures

Hello friends & family!
It feels as though I have been here for such a long time, but it has only been a week. (Well, one week of travel, one week of training)… Anyway, I am having a wonderful time and I miss you all dearly. Here’s a bit of an update on my life.
Botswana has lived up to its name so far. The people are so friendly! Before I arrived in Botswana (which, p.s., is pronounced BOATS-WAH-NA), I had heard nothing but good things about the people, economy, culture, etc. To date, all of the accounts of Botswana hold true! I am now in a village called KANYE with a population of about 60,000 people. Peace Corps volunteers have become the talk of the town and everyone wants to talk with us. Coming from a girl who doesn’t like to be the center of attention, it can be difficult finding any leisurely alone time. Walking around may be the busiest time of day for me (or any other volunteer) because people tend to gather around staring at you. Children will stare at you and giggle until you acknowledge them & then they run away. Adults within the community will stop what they are doing and come to the street to talk to us about our reasons for being in Botswana. Mostly, they are amazed to see Americans in their country and they are taken back when we tell them we are here to serve their people. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of! Their official language is English (they were colonized by the British) but the most widespread language is Setswana, which we are all learning now. It is a bit difficult to learn, and seemed intimidating before I got here, but as for most languages, they make a lot of sense. It will take time to figure it all out, but after a weeks’ worth of lessons, we feel comfortable enough to chat with locals. They laugh when we make mistakes (quite frequently) but they are pleased to see our efforts to understand their culture.
Every Peace Corps volunteer is placed with a host family during our two months (April 13- June 13) of pre-service training. Families are interviewed and trained before our arrival and Peace Corps staff matches us with families based upon our own personal applications. While host families vary quite a bit, I am feeling very lucky with my homestay situation. I am living with an older couple, Mr. & Mrs. Letebele (who I will call Mama and Papa from now on). They have five adult children, one of which still lives at home. Marang is my host sister who lives with us, and she is in her twenties I believe? She has a child, Isago, who lives with us as well. Isago just turned three on Friday. There are five of us at home, including me, and I feel like another member of the family. Papa is a pastor at our church, Jacob’s Ladder Church. It is a Zion Christian church- anyone care to explain how their beliefs differ? Church is from 10:30 to 2:30. I loved church last weekend and I plan to go every week I am here. It’s very energetic! A lot of getting up and down, singing and dancing, praise and worship. I wish you could all experience it!
Anyway, my parents seem to be well respected within the community. Papa used to be a secondary school teacher, primarily with English. Mama is retired now but she used to work in the community to educate others about HIV/AIDS and other common health problems. Her old job seems to be similar to what I will be doing in the next two years! Isago calls my mama her mama as well. I’ve learned it is common for children to call their grandmother “mama” when they are the primary care giver. Marang, her birth mother, is very much involved still. They all speak English quite well & Papa even translated the last sermon at church in English so I could understand. It is customary for host families to give their volunteers Setswana names, and my family has named me “BOITSHEPHO.” It’s pronounced weet-sehp-o. It means HOLY. Apparently, it’s quite an honor and I was pleased with my name. I’ve heard many people explain that my name will carry some expectations with it, for example: before community meetings, people are asked to pray. Guess who that may be? You got it, me! I am very happy with my family thus far, and I have no major complaints. I was very lucky in comparison to some of my fellow trainees who are still struggling with their homestay situation.
The house I stay in has running water and electricity (yay!). We even get hot running water--- such a big deal! Other trainees have more basic accommodations like pit latrines. Our home is beautiful. I have my own room with two beds (it is common here), a mirror, and a closet. I have more than enough room! The biggest challenges I have faced with my homestay situation include: bugs & bucket baths.
1.       BUGS- oh my goodness. Let’s just say I am not accustomed to ants in the kitchen and people here could care less. We have a fridge for our food, as well as a closet, but if any tiny morsel of food is left out, you can expect hundreds of tiny friends. In reality, it’s a very small challenge (no pun intended) but definitely something to get used to. I am still a vegetarian here in Botswana, which is going quite well, but I must admit that I do ingest ants here and there. :o) Maybe it’s the added protein everyone says I am missing out on….
2.       BUCKET BATHS – Mommy! Be so proud. I am officially using only ONE BUCKET of water for bathing. I’d like to challenge all of you to try it back home, it’s not quite as easy as you might think. My family does have a bath tub where I stand to bathe, so that makes it easier. I fill a small orange bucket with warm water & use a cup to bathe. Washing my body isn’t difficult, it’s the hair! It’s more difficult than you would think to rinse out all the shampoo/soap without getting your bucket water dirty/soapy. Oh! And everyone here is much cleaner than I ever imagined. I MUST bathe every day. I bathe every morning, or my mama wouldn’t let me leave. It’s very important to be clean and presentable here! I’m working on my timing too… I can’t seem to wash my hair very quickly.
My days are filled to the max with Peace Corps activities. Monday through Friday we are busy from 8:30 to 5:30 with language lessons and Peace Corps information sessions. Saturdays we have activities scheduled from 8:30 to 1:00. My language lessons are with a smaller group of three other people. Each small group is assigned a LCF (language and cross-cultural facilitator). They are our teachers/go to person for pretty much anything. My LCF is Zee-Man and he checks in with the four of us about how our homestay situation is going, how we are adjusting, and how he can help with our progress in cultural awareness. He’s an amazing resource! I am enjoying my Setswana lessons and I have learned about the Peace Corps approach to development. It’s scary to think I will be out on my own at site in less than two months, but I am confident that the training I receive now will be invaluable. Everything in Africa is still new to me, but the PC does a wonderful job with training. I am only a few weeks in!
I also wanted to point out that I was issued a cell phone by PC. I am free to use the phone for personal use in addition to keeping contact with PC staff. However, it costs me almost $1/minute to call back home to the states. The phones are all pay-as-you-go, and you have to enter new minutes by code. So far, I have only figured out how to add about $3 at a time, so it’s super annoying and expensive. EEK! The best way to contact me for now will be through email at If you’d like my phone number, I gave it to my mom and you could get it from her. The most cost efficient methods to call me seem to be through skype or calling cards. From my understanding, you can use skype with your internet connection to make an international phone call to my cell phone in Botswana. Current volunteers are estimating that $10 on skype will pay for about 45 minutes of chatting with me here. Much better than $45 for me calling you! :o) Calling cards also work, but I’m not sure the best route to take with that. Sorry to be somewhat out of touch with my phone! I can text as well, but the texting seems to be unreliable. Not sure how much it charges you either… so calling might be best. Please do call if you can, I’d be ecstatic to hear from my loved ones!
Sending lots of love back home! I miss you all so much. Keep me updated on your life!! I’ll send updates as often as possible. Until then, know that I am thinking of you, praying for you, and carrying you in my heart.
Love & Light,

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I am in AFRICA!

How exciting is that? I'm in AFRICA!

I just started trying to upload pictures from my adventures so far, and quickly realized what a joke that was. The internet is really slow!

My flight out was great... despite what everyone thought my 15 hour flight would be like. We left Philly at 2:30 am and I stayed awake most of the day. We went to JFK, boarded the plane at 11:00 am to go to Botswana. I stayed awake and wrote in my journal as long as I could & passed out. Next thing I knew, we were being served breakfast! ( I slept through dinner !)

We landed in Johannesburg around 8 am and we ended up with long layover. Everyone in our training group, minus six of us, got on the plane to Gabarone, Botswana at 3 PM. Lucky me, and five friends, got to wait another 3 hours to leave Johannesburg at 6 PM. Anyway, the six of us landed much later and got back to the hotel 4 hours late.

I forgot to mention that we got to pick up the other 35 pieces of lost checked luggage from other volunteers on the flight before us. Imagine six American women rolling out of the airport with 14 carts of luggage... it was quite the site, indeed.

I paid a few bucks to grab internet at the hotel tonight to say I'M ALIVE! We have some things going on bright and early & then we leave around 12 to go to our training village, Kanye, to meet our host family.

I am scared, excited, and optimistic. Saying lots of prayers to remain strong through this crazy adventure! I miss everyone back home, I love you guys so much!

They are saying no contact until April 30 as of right now... we shall see! if I have a chance to contact you guys before then, I will. Until then, sending lots of love!!!!!!

Love & Light,

p.s. I wish I could describe the SMELL here. I can already tell it is one that I will miss whenever I leave here...