Monday, May 14, 2012

Experiencing "Life as a Volunteer"


My life has been quite eventful in the past few weeks! Peace Corps is attempting to prepare all of the PC Trainees for life as a volunteer. Last weekend, we had an entire morning devoted to gardening. PC staff taught us various gardening techniques to help us live in a more sustainable manner. I am really interested in gardening on my own throughout my two years and I quickly learned what a chore it can be! Gardening is a lot of work no matter where you are, but I am certain it is going to be quite a task here in Botswana. 

The ground is VERY hard in most places, and digging into the ground feels like you are taking a pick ax to solid rock. Not the most pleasant feeling! We learned how to "double dig", which basically translates to a whole lot of work. You have to dig down about a foot, removing the dirt as you go, and after that, just keep on digging. The second dig is digging another foot deeper, but this time, you leave the loose dirt in the hole. After you have completed the double dig, you pour dried chicken poop/compost on top of the loose dirt and begin shoveling all of the dirt back into the hole. Once that step is completed, you must dig a ditch all the way around the bed to catch run off water. Planting the seeds comes AFTER all of that work, and the maintanance! Goodness. I am telling you, when I start my garden, I am going to be an extremely proud vegetable momma. I will be inviting everyone over to share my first carrot. What a fun accomplishment that will be! :o)

The Peace Corps is also preparing us for life as a volunteer by sending us out to shadow another volunteer who is currently serving in Botswana. As I said before, I went to Shoshong to visit Amelia for my shadowing week. Shoshong was about four hours away by bus and I had great traveling experiences. I was feeling very anxious about traveling around the country, attempting to speak an unfamiliar language, but to my surprise, everyone was incredibly kind and receptive to my travel plans. Batswana go out of their way to help you find the correct bus and I never felt threatened at all! Throughout my week of shadowing, I traveled by way of bus, khombi (small shuttle van), taxi, and hitch hiking. 

Buses can be very luxurious, similar to a grey hound bus in the US, or they can be completely packed with people. Buses are a reliable way to travel in this country and your comfort level during the ride will depend on where you are going and how much money you are willing to spend. Khombi's are often very hot, uncomfortable and crowded. Passenger limits don't seem to phase anyone here. It's not unlikely to have a complete stranger sitting in your lap in a khombi... you're forced to become friends quickly! Taxis are very common within the bigger cities/villages and unlike the United States, taxis rides are shared with strangers. When you flag down a taxi, expect to be entering a car full of people or expect to be picking up strangers along the way! Hitch hiking in Botswana is NOT like the United States at all. In the United States, no one would ever hitch as a safe, reliable method of transportation. Here, the rules are a bit different. Often, between smaller villages, there are not khombis or buses, so people are forced to hitch with people who have cars. Unlike hitching in the states, you are expected to pay for your hitch and the price you pay is equal to the amount of money you would pay on a bus to go the same distance. Hitching is very similar to grabbing a shared taxi ride, but you are riding with a local who is trying to make some money for gas. Although some of those transportation options seem crazy at first, I slowly became comfortable with navigating my way through the country. 

Amelia was an incredible host during my week in Shoshong and I learned a lot from her service. She is also a Community Capacity Builder based in a local clinic but her involvement with the community didn't stop there. Amelia works with the youth in the schools to teach a life skills class, helps community members write proposals to start a small business, organizes big awareness events, etc. She taught me a lot about the idea that "YOUR SERVICE IS WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT." It sounds incredibly cheesy, but as a Peace Corps volunteer, you have to choose how much work you want to put into things. Some people are content with doing the bare minimum, but of course you all know me... I can't wait to jump into as many projects as possible! 

Here are a few things we did throughout the week:

  •  I helped her faciliatate a life skills class at a secondary school
  • We visited her ARV Clinic & helped with some patient charts
  • I led a focus group with 20-30 year olds to discuss issues within Shoshong/Botswana
  • We visited Old Shoshong - which is a historical site where missionaries lived in the past. 
  • We helped a woman in the community find funding to start her own small business (quiliting).
  • We did home visits throughout the week - people ask Amelia to come and "check" them. 
  • I talked to two women who recently gave birth and they explained superstitions & traditions around pregnancy in their culture.
  • We visited another volunteer in Machaneng to see another perspective of life as a volunteer.
  • Finally, we spent the weekend camping at Tuli Banks. I will explain more in a moment!

The focus group was a very helpful experience during my time in Shoshong. I had the opportunity to sit down with a small group of men & women living in Shoshong to discuss the biggest problems they were facing within their community. They all seem to be extremely concerned about the unemployment, poverty, and corruption within the government system. They all say that the division between the rich and the poor has gotten worse over the years -- and surprisingly, HIV/AIDS didn't come up as an issue they are very concerned with addressing. Their response is that the youth all know about HIV/AIDS and they want help with other areas they are struggling with. I'll write more about the focus group after I finish writing my report to turn into Peace Corps.... 

Stephanie is the volunteer who we stayed with in Machaneng. She is about to leave to go back to the United States after her two years of service. I really enjoyed talking with Stephanie about her experiences, she seems to have learned a lot. Steph met an amazing family in her village who owns a large farm near the border of South Africa. Their family offered to take all of her volunteer friends out to the Tuli Banks Farm to go camping for the weekend. Of course, we all loved the idea! The family was incredibly generous - they fed us throughout the weekend, allowed us to stay at their campsites, took us all around the farms & there was even a  hot shower!! We spent all day on Saturday on a game drive to see all the animals. We saw warthogs, wildebeasts, spring boc, vultures and other native birds, a few other animals I can't remember the names of, and best of all - GIRAFFES! I was so excited - we were very close to the giraffes and I have never seen something quite as magestic. We all love to see them in the zoo, but seeing them in the wild was something I will remember for the rest of my life. The family was laughing at me because I was so excited. Seeing giraffes doesn't even phase them at all! Isn't that funny? It was an incredible weekend adventure and I am so thankful for their hospitality. I will stay in touch with the family & I hope to visit there again sometime! 

My visit with Amelia really inspired me to work hard to learn as much Setswana as possible. Her Setswana skills were truly remarkable! She led the entire life skills class in Setswana. As I came to class Monday morning with a new hope of excelling in Setswana, I was told that I am one of very few who now has to switch to learn a NEW language. :o) I really wasn't surprised, of course things like that would happen! I will now be learning Sekgalagadi! In Botswana, 79% of the people speak Setswana and only 3% speak Sekgalagadi. It will be quite a challenge because Sekgalagadi is a spoken language, so there are very few resources to learn their language. I am looking forward to this challenge- and I'm very fortunate to have two of my closest friends in our Sekgalagadi language group. Wish me luck, I am now going to try to master two languages! :o) 

Now that I know I will be speaking Sekgalagadi, I will be placed somewhere in the western region of Botswana. I will not know my exact placement until Friday afternoon. Keep your fingers crossed for me- a lot of the Western region ONLY eats meat. Eek! I'm hoping that my western placement will still be close enough to a village where I could find some vegetables. We'll see! I'll keep you all updated on what ends up happening. Thank you for all the emails, letters, and support! it makes all the difference in the world. Fellow trainees are often jealous of my incredibly loving and supportive friends & family - I can't thank you all enough for everything you do for me! xoxoxoxo

Uploading pictures seems to be an impossibly slow task this morning since others are using the internet right now - check back later to see the pictures I add to this post. I have a lot of fun photos I would love to share, but I won't have time to upload them this morning before class. :o) 

Love & Light, 

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