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 café. 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,

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