Monday, June 25, 2012

Care Packages

Hello dear ones!

As requested by many of you, I have decided to post a list of things I would love to receive in care packages. I've separated them into two lists… I made a list of "most desired" items which have somewhat valid reasons behind why I would like to have them. The other list is my "I'm a bratty American who wants these things but truly doesn't NEED them". They would be fun to have, but truly, I'm doing quite alright without them. People have been asking for care package ideas, so if you feel so inclined, you can peruse the list of items.

I will post the lists in the page labeled "care packages" (for easier reference in the future) , which you can find in a tab above my most recent blog post. You will see it next to other tabs including contact information, lists, lessons learned, etc.

Also, some additional information about mailing items:
-It can be expensive to mail things, so I think the best route is to send the padded (or bubble lined) envelopes. It costs about $16 to send an envelope that size to me in Africa.

-It only costs one u.s. postal stamp to send a letter to botswana! Fun, huh?

-Write USED EDUCATIONAL MATERIAL, RELIGIOUS MATERIAL, or USED BOOKS on the outside of whatever package you send. Regardless of what you actually claim on customs, the average person dealing with the package will think it's too boring to open!

-Wrap anything that has the potential to leak or spill in plastic bags

Tate "Boitshepo" Van Winkle
P.O. Box 381
Kang, Botswana

Thank you all for being so loving and supportive! I wouldn't be who I am today without each and every one of you.

Love & Light,

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Humble Abode

Before my departure to Botswana, I often heard people asking me if I could be living in a hut. Just like many of you, I had never been to Africa and I was unsure of what to expect. What do you think of when you hear "Africa"? I know, with complete  certainty, that my ideas of what I would find here is drastically different from where I am living. Of course, there are places that are less developed than this great country of Botswana, but I am here to break down some of the stereotypes we might have become accustomed to.

I live in a beautiful home which was recently built with running water and wired for electricity . My house is much bigger than I ever expected with a master bedroom, master bathroom, shower (can you believe it!?), extra bathroom, guest bedroom, living room, dining room & kitchen. Makibikibi, or Keebs, my little furry cat, is in cat heaven with all the space he could dream of to run and play in. All of the floors are tile as well, which makes cleaning them much easier & brings my kitty great entertainment to run, slide & crash into the walls. As I mentioned before, it is incredibly sandy here, so I must sweep and mop quite frequently to avoid sand dunes in my home.

I want to share some additional pictures of my house, along with a disclaimer. All of my walls are concrete which makes decorating quite the burden. I've decided that given the limited options for wall hangings, my house looks a bit like a glorified dorm room. Tacky, yet beautiful. I've become quite fond of it.

living room shot # 1

master bathroom

map of states with pictures of family!

living room shot #2

Kitchen shot #1

kitchen shot #2

my bedroom 

lil vanity / desk area in my bedroom 
My gas stove has been connected in my kitchen to allow me to cook, warm bath water, and make tea for my neighbors who constantly drop by for a visit. Before my stove was connected, I was bathing with cold water. It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't the dead of winter here. After lathering shampoo into my hair, I began to rinse out all of the suds. By the time the third or fourth cup of cold water was dumped onto my head, I had to stop because I had a brain freeze. Never in all of my life has that happened! Needless to say, I stopped washing my hair until I got my stove. I hugged the man who installed it for me; it was impossible to contain my excitement to have the option of boiling water. It's the little things in life, I'm telling you!

The electrical box is the missing piece before I get electricity, so until then, I won't have use of the refrigerator sitting so nicely in a box in my kitchen. (With electricity, I will also be able to use a geyser to have hot running water!)  I have a system for cooking which seems to be working out alright for me… I make dinner to serve two, eating one portion at night and saving one portion for lunch the following day. Although I don't have a fridge to store leftovers, it stays cool enough at night and even by mid morning, my food is still ok. Yet another reason I am thankful to be a vegetarian! Nothing I cook has much potential to spoil by the second day.

And so, here I am in Kang, happy as a clam. I already love to read by candle light and I think I may end up doing so even after electricity is available in my home. I've found great comfort in my simple life here - it can be very nice to have your computer turned off to have some quiet time to yourself. Try turning your phone & computer off for the day, or even the evening. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy your own company :o)

Love & Light,

P.S. Please notice the random Christmas tree in the corner of my living room, the yellow!! paint on the walls & the beautiful 1980's prom dress curtains. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fumbling in the Dark

A white Toyota Corolla pulled into the Kanye Education Center around 1 PM, which was already five hours later than we were expecting. Pam, another Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) and I exchanged a few brief looks of panic before realizing that whether we liked it or not, she and I would soon be crammed into a tiny car for the rest of the afternoon. Drivers were sent from all around the country to pick up PCV's and whenever possible, they tried to bring people who lived in the same region in just one vehicle. This makes plenty of sense, as long as the vehicle is large enough for everyone and everything. Pam & I spent the better half of the morning saying good bye to our fellow Bots 12 PCV's and watching them drive away in big shuttle vans (called khombis), mini school buses, or fire trucks. And there we were, with large piles of our belongings & no alternative solutions coming to mind.

Here is a picture of just exactly how much we crammed into the car:

oh what fun! 
You learn to go with the flow here!

As we drove away from Kanye, I had mixed feelings about moving onto the next chapter of my Peace Corps Adventures. I was definitely excited about all of the new challenges, but at that time, I still wasn't even sure if I had a house in Kang. With a little bit of faith, I knew things would turn out alright.

Bright rays of red and gold sunlight filled the sky as we pulled into Kang. Although I could only see out of one window of the vehicle, I was so pleased to see what little there is to be found in my new village. My heart filled with joy as I realized this new little village will be my home! Our driver took us to the clinic where I will be based and he left me with my supervisor, Dr. Katungu. He was very pleased to meet me and he drove me to my new home in Kang.

As I was warned, there is no electricity in my house, so I immediately rummaged through my bags to find the candles and matches I bought earlier that day . Fumbling in the dark was a bit of a challenge, especially since I had never seen the layout of the house before.

My lovely new PINK home (liz, you should be so happy!)
It turns out that even during the day, I still feel like I am fumbling around. I have been here for a week now, and I am just  trying to learn everyone's names and faces. It's difficult to try to figure out exactly what I should be doing here, but that's why I am working on a community assessment. I have two months to talk to community members and clinic staff to gather enough information to write a report about what projects I will be starting in September, based upon the needs of the community. Working on this report feels a bit like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle with a million pieces painted the same color. :o) I'll work on putting some of the pieces of the puzzle together & I will find where my piece will go as well.

And of course, I'll be doing all of that by candlelight :o)

Hope all is well with you, I'll write another update again this weekend!
Love & Light,

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sandy, sandy Kang

I arrived in Kang on late Wednesday night and it has been quite an adventure! I don't have much time to write about all of it right now because I am on my lunch break, but I promise to send out a very detailed message soon. Just a few things to update you on for now:

-It is INCREDIBLY sandy here. We all knew I was moving to the desert, but imagine that everywhere you walk, you're trudging through the sand (like at the beach, only less scenic). I am already building up all kinds of muscle mass! It's quite the work out to get anywhere.
-I have a house! It's very beautiful, I will upload pictures sometime this week. I still do not have electricity, but I am starting to enjoy living my life by candlelight. I do have running water though!
-I have a new address! I got my own personal P.O. box....

Tate "Boitshepo" Van Winkle
P.O. Box 381
Kang, Botswana

I have been making a list of care package wishes... so I will throw those up here for anyone willing to be kind enough to send the items!
- Everyone here has been very kind & I am excited to tell you more about my adventures! Now that I have found the internet cafe (with two computers), I will be sure to type up blog posts more often to upload.

Until then, I am praying for everyone back home & I hope this finds you well! Look for a more detailed update soon... Just wanted to let everyone know I am alive & well. :o)

Love & Light,

Monday, June 11, 2012

Every End has a New Beginning

As I am wrapping up training in Kanye & looking back on my experiences, it seems as though I have already come so far. Who I am two months ago upon arrival to this beautiful country is drastically different than who I am as I write to you today. Although I have been counting down the days of training, I must admit that I am sad to leave behind my new friends, host family & all of the memories we have made together. We have experienced all the ups & downs along the way and I've realized that joining the Peace Corps has truly taught me to find comfort among all the chaos and insanity that wraps itself around me on a daily basis.

Tomorrow is the official Peace Corps Swearing In Ceremony where I will take an oath in front of the U.S. Ambassador, the Botswana Country Director & my peers to solidify my commitment as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Following your dreams isn't always easy & I've definitely found myself questioning whether this is where I should be... but at the end of the day, waking up each morning in Botswana is exactly where I need to be at this point. Sure, I've faced a lot of difficulties throughout the past two months, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. From day one when I first began contemplating whether I should join Peace Corps up until today,  it has been a test of patience, self reflection & dedication. There's absolutely no way that I could take an oath tomorrow if my heart wasn't completely sold on the idea & I can say that without a doubt, I am ready to take on all the adventures coming my way in Kang! Pre-Service Training (PST) is coming to a close & new beginnings are awaiting me in my new village. Can't really complain about that, now can I?

To wrap up PST, we had our host family appreciation event on Saturday to honor the families who have lovingly taken us in as sons and daughters. My host momma and niece came to the event & they enjoyed eating "American Chili" and learning some traditional American dances. Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves & we all got a little teary eyed watching the slide show of PST that was put together for us. We've become such a close knit PC family! I will miss everyone very much.

dancing with my host niece
With my host momma & niece
Also, I picked up my cat from another volunteer this past Thursday and he has been settling into my room at home. He's a shy cat and he definitely gets freaked out by a number of things, but he is such a sweet heart. He likes to cuddle up with me in bed & purrs as long as my little host niece isn't in my room screaming and running around. Makibikibi will be a wonderful little companion for me & I think he will keep me company throughout some lonely days of transitioning into Kang.

sweet little makibikibi! 
My dad is doing much better & he is scheduled to be discharged on Wednesday of this week (same day I am moving)! It will be a big day for both of us. :-D thanks for all the prayers and positive thoughts! My mommy called me yesterday to inform me that our first baby goat was born this weekend and it was really fun to see pictures of the cute new addition to our farm back home. I am also especially thankful for Mia calling me this week from Camp Wapiyapi - I wish I could be there with the kiddos, but it was so touching to hear each of their voices on the other line when they called me to tell me about camp adventures. What fun!

I am trying to get everything all packed up this evening for my big move to Kang on Wednesday. We all know how much I dislike packing.... wish me luck! :-D

Love & Light,

Sunday, June 3, 2012

What do you value?

Throughout the course of last week, I have been truly questioning what holds value in my life. As usual, I went through the day to day activities and learned as much as I possibly could about community mobilization, evidence based planning, correct condom use, personal risk reduction, and emergency action plans. Ironically enough, we also had a session on mental & emotional health right before I received an email I hoped to never receive from back home….

My dad had a stroke last week and has been hospitalized again. Immediately upon reading the email, and directly following our mental health session, I broke out into tears and ran to call back home. What I fear the most is happening as we speak - a loved one is in the hospital and I have no way of helping. It's a horrible, horrible feeling.

Luckily, my country director was in Kanye presenting that day so I had the chance to discuss my dad's health with him.  The entirety of the Peace Corps staff has been incredibly supportive and I couldn't have asked for a better response.  My close friends here (and back at home) have been wonderful help to me as well. Despite all the love , encouragement and prayers, I'm still thousands of miles away from home which is a difficult feeling to overcome. One of my friends here commented the other day about how I have been immediately thrown into the most difficult aspect of serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer… you're simply not able to be around for people at home when you desperately want to be able to show that you care.

I've spoken with several friends & family back home about my dad's health condition since then and he has been released from the ICU. They are trying to find a rehab center for him to recover from everything and I'm not sure of the details behind all of that yet either. Please, please send prayers & positive thoughts for my father right now…. I love you so much daddy! I wish I could be there for you.

In an attempt to keep myself sane, I have still been attending all scheduled events to distract myself from getting upset. On Friday, we went to the capital to see the Diamond Trading Center and polishing factory. Our group had the opportunity to learn about how diamonds are bought/sold in Botswana and how they affect the economy here. Diamonds are largely responsible for the success of this nation after their independence in 1966, so we were all excited to learn more about the industry. As it turns out, we got to see all the science behind cutting & polishing diamonds from start to finish. People who worked there allowed us to hold some truly incredible diamonds… I even got to hold a 10 karat yellow diamond, valued at $2 million. Can you even imagine having the money to purchase that diamond?

We all left with a greater appreciation of the diamond industry and a sickening awareness of how materialistic people can be. A tiny little rock, which looks like a piece of unpolished glass in the beginning, suddenly holds an insane amount of value because of marketing and a high demand for the product. I'm not trying to be a hypocrite either… I definitely own diamond jewelry. It's just insane to hold a piece of carbon in your hands, valued at a higher price than all your worldly possessions combined… and really, it's worthless.

I laughed hysterically we asked an employee there she liked diamonds. Her response?
"AH! These (pointing at a whole row of diamonds)? No. They are just rocks."

What holds value in your life?

I know after two months of living in Botswana, my material items don't mean much to me at all anymore. Sure, it might be an inconvenience if I lost them, but like my mommy always says, "If you can fix it with money, it isn't a problem." People everywhere tend to lose sight of the things that matter the most when we are faced with busy schedules and expectations. I'm guilty of it too. And trust me, it isn't a unique occurrence in America either.

 Kiss your loved ones, give thanks for the necessities in life we take for granted (food & shelter), and remember that life is never a guarantee. My family holds the greatest value in my life, along with my friends. We are, after all, social creatures and relationships are meant to be created and fostered throughout the years. I am truly saddened that I cannot be in Colorado with my family right now, but I know that I can rest in my faith that things will all turn out alright.

Praying that this finds you well in your corner of the world.
Love & Light,

P.S. Thank you thank you thank you to Lizzy & Michael for visiting my dad in the hospital. I appreciate it so much more than I could ever express… I'm so blessed to have each of you in my life <3