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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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,