Monday, July 30, 2012

....5, 6, 7, 8

Other Peace Corps friends came  to visit this weekend for a meeting to plan a youth camp in March of 2013. They all wanted to come see the dance practices I've been having with my family for the upcoming wedding & thought you might like to see a bit of what my life is like!

And of course, you'll get a kick out of the small boy near the front & the incredibly drunk man (who is a family friend) in the back with my poor sister. 


Love & Light, 

P.S. That took WELL over an hour to upload... not sure I'll have the patience to do this very often :o)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Friends become Family

This past Monday was President's day. Many people around the village travel to visit friends, family & loved ones around the country, but others (like me) decided to relax and enjoy being around home. Over the long weekend I found time to visit with nearby Peace Corps Volunteers, read part of my book, write letters to loved ones in the states, and build upon some of the friendships I have established here in Kang.

My sister who came home from school
in Gabs 
As I cooked myself breakfast on Monday morning, I wondered what activities I could fill my day with. I immediately thought of spending time with the family who lives next door to me. This family has really taken me in & treats me as if I was always a part of their family. I have become annoyed with some of the unwanted male attention I have received here, but much to my surprise, the family next door is comprised of all women. One very old woman, or masadi mogolo, her daughter, five granddaughters (three are close to my age, the other two are 12 & 8 yrs old), one great-granddaughter (9 months old) and one great-grandson (2 yrs old) all stay next door. They have quickly become my closest friends here.

Anyway, many family members came to visit this weekend to discuss the plans for the upcoming wedding for my auntie. She will be married on August 18 & it is customary to hold several family meetings to discuss the preparations for the big day (very unlike American culture). I began to think about what I could do to spend time with all of the young adults & children who were floating around & I decided that I wanted to teach them a few things. I thought a day of teaching them how to make no-bake cookies & friendship bracelets sounded like a great time!

the girls making cookies
Although I'm not a huge fan of the no-bake cookies, people in my community seem to love them. And the best part is that you don't have to bake them, which seems to be the selling point for most people. I like them better with half as much sugar & a little more peanut butter, but they are quick & easy to make if you'd like to try them:

2 c sugar
1/2 c milk
3 T cocoa
1 t vanilla
3 T peanut butter
2 c oats, quick cooking

Mix first three ingredients together in a sauce pan & bring to a boil for one minute. Add vanilla & peanut butter, mix well. Add oats last. Drop by teaspoons on flat surface to harden.

our lovely bracelets
I went to invite them over for the day & soon enough, my house was full of all kinds of family members. Aunties came over to have tea, children came to learn to make cookies & people of all ages left my house with a friendship bracelet on their wrist. Various patterns & techniques were used to make the bracelets, but we made bracelets for every single person in the family - including the tiny baby! They were thrilled to make them. :o)

my gift
After a long day of eating cookies & crafting (rough life, I know), they all went back next door to start cooking. An hour or so later, Gao, the 8 year old girl, came over asking for my friendship bracelet thread and scissors. I let her take them next door and soon enough, they asked me to come see what they had made. My heart was filled with joy when I saw what they had been crafting… my very own bracelet with my name on it!

I was so delighted they took the time to make one for me, but I was curious about what motivated them to do so. The response? "You spent the whole day doing things with us. We will spend two years together, but we don't ever want you to forget about us when you leave."

My heart melted.

I already know it will be impossible to forget them.


Me with Masadi mogolo 
Masadi mogolo (old woman) doesn't speak a word of English, she only speaks sekgalagadi. We often end up looking like we are playing charades because we truly don't know how to communicate with each other, unless one of the granddaughters is there to translate. The day after we all made friendship bracelets, masadi mogolo comes up to me, points at herself, then back at me and says, "family." In English! She asked someone to teach her to say family because she wanted me to know that she thinks of me as a daughter. I can't even begin to explain what a magical moment that was for me! I never knew that one word could be so meaningful…

learning traditional dances for the wedding
I've spent each evening this week at their house attempting to learn the traditional dances for the wedding & so far, I've only got one down. They think it's highly entertaining for me to try to learn their complex dances, and I must admit, it's quite humbling. Practice makes perfect, or at least not awful. :o) They are ordering me a traditional tswana dress for the wedding & it will be made in a pattern the family has picked out for me. After only a few short weeks, strangers have become acquaintances, acquaintances have become friends, and friends have become family. I've only been here in Kang for a little over a month now, but it's difficult to even begin to think about how I will be able to say good-bye in 23 months.

Love & Light,

Sunday, July 15, 2012


The romance of the Peace Corps has a tendency to wear off quickly when I am away from home and missing out on important milestones in the lives of the people I love. One of my dear friends, Mackenzie, is getting married this Friday & I was originally supposed to fly back to be a bridesmaid when I had my first Peace Corps assignment in Guatemala. Unfortunately, due to the cancellation of PC Guatemala & accepting my invitation to PC Botswana meant that I wouldn't be able to travel back to the states for her big day. Although I could sit here whining & crying about missing out on her wedding (and Lord knows that I have done plenty of that), I have chosen instead to try to show her how much I will always love and support her. 

Thanks to Kenzie's mom, sister & bridesmaids, I was able to surprise her with a video skype date to read a toast I put together for her & Dom (read below). The girls printed off the picture (below) for me & brought out the computer with me on skype to read the toast to her -- she was with all the girls when all of this happened, and of course, we were both in tears. 

I miss you dearly Mackenzie! You will always be one of my best friends & I wish you and Dom nothing but the best. Enjoy your day to celebrate!!! I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to chat with you before your big day - and know that I am always carrying you in my heart. <3 

To my dearest Mackenzie,

In a few days you will be walking down the aisle to marry the man who will love and protect you for the rest of your days. There is no doubt in my mind that you two will find pleasure and fulfillment together in all the years to come.  Your wedding is a time to celebrate, rejoice, and give thanks for your husband. As you find yourself busy socializing at the reception, people will be captivated by your radiant beauty and grace, but remember to take the time to carefully observe and create memories of each tender, blissful moment.

It causes my heart great sorrow to not be standing by your side, but please understand that I have been carrying you in my heart every day since I left the United States. Now is the time to celebrate your relationship with Dom, and although I won't be there physically,  I will be there in spirit. As you are walking down the aisle, I will be rejoicing in Africa for God's great blessings in your life. Time will move on and as I return home, it will be sincerely rewarding for me to witness how far you two have come in your marriage.  You will face days of pure delight, instants of annoyance, and moments of compromise throughout your marriage that will challenge, push, and shape you both into a resilient, compassionate couple with the ability to face any obstacle life may present. 

The women standing by your side on your wedding day will faithfully continue to stand by your side throughout everything you experience in life… myself included. I am here to love and support you unconditionally, not just on your wedding day, but every day. You are a true gift to the world & all of us are better women for knowing you.

I hope your wedding is everything you've every dreamed of and more.
Here's to you & Dom!

Love & Light,

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Spider Guts & Candle Wax

Creepy, crawly bugs have always seemed to intrigue me & I spent many years advocating for them. Why would you ever want to kill them? As many of you know, I used to catch bugs of all sorts & put them safely back outside in nature. After living in my sorority house for two years, I came to realize that I didn’t share this kind of compassion for bugs with many people. Anyway, I am sad to report that moving to Africa has changed my perspective on this issue.

Does killing bugs bring you bad karma? I sure hope not, because after finding some really awful looking bugs in Botswana, I have taken to killing all kinds of creepy crawly things. It hurts my heart to kill them, and of course I apologize to them before I smack them with my shoe, but I really can't seem to bring myself to sleep peacefully in my house with them roaming around.

Here's a story of why I am bringing this up.

While I was watching a movie on Friday night, my dear friend Mia called me to chat about how I'm doing. As we are talking, I look up to my candlelit ceiling only to find the biggest spider I've ever seen in my life. Its body was easily the length of my pinky finger and its long legs definitely contributed to my goose bumps. Poor Mia is listening to me try to plan how I was going to kill it, which didn't seem like an easy task since it was tucked back into the corner of the room right up against the ceiling. I pulled one of my living room chairs over to the corner & it ran behind my ruffled 1980's looking curtains. Ugh. 

I pulled back the curtain to look for it, only to find a miniature version of the little terror. WHACK. Baby wasn't fast enough or intimidating to me.  I sat back down on the couch, horrified that I couldn't find the huge spider (how could it hide anyway? It was HUGE!) After a few minutes passed, it crawled back over to where it was originally.

Both arms of the chair supported me as I stood close enough to kill the spider on the ceiling. I was scared to try to kill the spider because I didn't think one smack would be enough to kill it… but right as soon as I could muster enough courage to whack the spider - CRASH. My candle falls from the base it was standing on & I find myself in the pitch black, within a foot of a huge spider. I screamed like a little girl (I actually wasn't aware that I COULD scream like that…)

In the process of trying to fumble and find new matches, I accidentally hung up on Mia, leaving her to believe something horrible happened. I eventually managed to light my candle & discover two things: (1) I now have candle wax all over my computer keyboard from where the candle fell and (2) my candle will not stand up on its own anymore. I go to my emergency bag, rummage through my belongings and find my head lamp. Success!

Mia has called back at this point to find out what caused me to scream bloody murder & hang up. With my headlamp on, slipper in hand, and a friend laughing on the other side of the world, I decided the whole game needed to end. Here goes! WHACK! Woo hoo! But wait, where did it go?

That sucker was too big to not be found… and it turns out I hit the wall right near him, so he scampered across a whole side of my living room & ventured toward the other wall. I finally got close enough to him again & one final time, WHACK. I got it. I was so disturbed at what I saw after I killed it….

spider guts on my wall.. ick

the dead spider. GROSSSSSSS. I also want you to know he deflated
when I killed him... he was much bigger! 

I spent the next half an hour of my life cleaning spider guts off my wall, disposing of it's body, and scraping candle wax off my computer keys. 

There are many moments I wish people could be around to laugh at… so I thought I would share this one with you. Try not to judge me for killing bugs now, especially after a whole lifetime of advocating for how wonderful they are. Indeed, they are wonderful and essential for our life on Earth, but at this point, I think I need to stay sane and do what I can for my mental health. Trust me when I say that no one could sleep peacefully with these spiders!

Love & Light,

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Cost of Luxury

As I settle into my new home in Kang, I have frequently reflected upon my original expectations about joining the Peace Corps. I envisioned living in a small home (or hut?), with no running water, no electricity, and limited access to local resources. I imagined walking hours to work every day, finding myself completely isolated, and sending snail mail to loved ones to tell them about my adventures. However, the amenities and luxuries I thought I would live without are now available to me on a daily basis.

My home is incredibly beautiful and much larger than anything I would ever need as a single woman. I traveled all around the country this weekend to get the Internet as well! I can now use the Internet whenever I want to from the luxury of my own home. Just how exactly did that happen? After spending 550 Pula (Botswana currency… this is over 1/4 of my living allowance), 74 hours of travel, 6 bus rides, and 6 taxi rides, I was able to purchase a two year contract to use the Internet. It is basically a modem that plugs into a USB port and allows you to access the Internet. It logs your data usage and I pay each month to use a set amount of data. Convenient, right?

Of course, I never imagined that I would have Internet on my personal computer as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but some of those luxuries are available simply because of the times we are living in and the fact that I am serving in a middle income country. Before I moved to Botswana, I was told that Botswana was known as a "Peace Corps Light" country. What exactly does that mean? It means that some people view this country as a comfortable place to live in with many luxuries and resources available, unlike other counties of service. Seems accurate thus far in my service….

But what so many people fail to realize is about WHY I'm here.  Here's a bit of history:

After gaining independence in 1966, Peace Corps Volunteers served in Botswana from 1966 to 1997. In 1997, the Peace Corps recognized how far the country had progressed and saw no need to stay and serve the Batswana (this is what you call people from Botswana). Botswana's economy was improving and they were considered a middle income country. What a great reason to have to leave a country of service! In 2001, the idea of returning to Botswana was brought about by the severity of the AIDS epidemic in the region and the potential of the epidemic to reverse the prolific development gains made in Botswana since independence.  The president asked for Peace Corps to come back and in 2003 Peace Corps started sending over more volunteers to address the issue. There have been over 370 volunteers who have served since re-opening in 2003. Currently, we have over 115 volunteers throughout the country working at District AIDS Coordinator Offices, Clinics, Non-Governmental Organizations, and schools.

Compared to where I would have been living in Guatemala (with my first Peace Corps assignment), I definitely do have access to things I never thought I would. In Guatemala, as well as other Peace Corps countries, projects are often designed to make some sort of direct, measurable impact. I was assigned to the Healthy Homes Program there and I would have helped assess how to make changes to homes to create a positive change for the people who lived there. It would have been a very obvious change...just look at the house!  In contrast, I am here in Botswana now to measure whether or not I can make a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It's not possible to determine whether you made a direct impact because behavior change isn't something you can measure very easily.

The Botswana Government has a campaign right now called "No new infections by 2016." That's the overall goal. I am committed to making a difference in my community, but the complications that arise from addressing such a large scale health problem can make it seem like you aren't making a difference. I'll never know who is going to learn from my example, truly change their behavior, or make an effort to educate others. HIV/AIDS is a nasty virus that preys on our most intimate moments in life…mainly making love & raising babies (although there are other ways to be infected these are the most common)

I'm here to do as much as I possibly can and I am very blessed to live in such a wonderful country. I am happy to be able to enjoy some of the luxuries I imagined living without, but I am also dealing with some extremely tough issues without really being able to observe any direct results. I am envious of some other volunteers living with less and witnessing a change in their communities, but I wouldn't trade my situation for anything else in the world. It's so devastating to see well-educated people living in a successful country becoming ill from a virus that is easily preventable. So although I may find myself with more than some Peace Corps Volunteers in other countries, I am battling an extremely complicated epidemic that has affected millions of people for the past several decades. Trade-offs.

Love & Light,