Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Glimpse into Tate’s World - A Mom’s Perspective

My sweet mother has agreed to share some of her thoughts on my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana. Thought it might be fun for those of you back home to hear about my life from a new perspective. :o)

Love & Light,

A Glimpse into Tate’s World - A Mom’s Perspective

Every day we spent with Tate in Botswana was a treasure.    I now have a better connection and better insight into her current life.  My phone calls with Tate in the future will be more meaningful.  I’ll know who and what she’ll be talking about.  I’ll be able to relate better.  That alone is a huge gift and worth all of the effort it took in getting to her world.

Let me address the issue of safety for those of you who love Tate.  A mother’s first concern for her babies…safety.  I believe she is in a physically safe place.  Violence, guns, crime… all are very low occurrences in Botswana.  Her concrete block house is secure and would be difficult for someone to break into. She uses good judgment and caution and doesn’t go out at night.  She has good instincts.

Kang- Land of the Desert
My overall impression of life in Kang, Botswana?  It’s just plain difficult. It’s a long journey to get there and when you finally do get there, it’s not comfortable.  By comparison to Tate’s upbringing and life in the U.S.…her current life is just hard.   The physical environment is tough.  The heat is oppressive and there is no escaping it.  It’s not like you can head to the swim club, or crash on a couch in an air conditioned house.  It’s miserably hot…pretty much all the time.   It’s a desert- it’s sandy, barren, thorny, buggy, itchy, windy, hot…did I mention that?  I routinely fantasized about a clear pool with concrete stepping stones, a green lawn, palm trees, icy drinks with little umbrellas, and thick plush pool towels.

There’s very little of anything that’s “soft” or comforting.   It’s difficult to sleep in the heat.  The government issued foam pad of a bed is not really meant for old cranky backs.  We bought a few more pillows, a blanket and a patio chair for Tate, hoping to make her world a bit softer.

Home is Where Tate’s Heart is!
Now I will say that she does have the good fortune of living in one of the nicest houses in the town.  It’s about 800 square feet, and quite adequate with tile floors, two bedrooms, bathrooms and a kitchen. She has running water, most of the time, and has gotten good at taking a shower with about 12 drips of cold water.  Although she does not have working electricity in the house, she now has an extension cord running into her house, which powers a small refrigerator, a fan and her computer.  Not that the electricity works all the time… rolling blackouts are common.  We hopefully improved her life with the addition of some kerosene lamps so she has light in the evening.  Bummer that the roof leaks (pours buckets) into the house when it rains.

She has adapted.  She is so resourceful.  Somehow she lives on about $200/month (go ahead and try doing that!)  She washes and reuses plastic bags, uses aluminum coke cans for drinking glasses,  and saves every letter and envelope she has received from family and friends to decorate the walls of her house. She stores water in containers for the days when there won’t be any.  She can cook dinner by the light from a candle.  She makes awesome meals out of very little.  She is tough.

Daily Work
Tate’s work life seems difficult to me.   The work ethic and cultural differences between the U.S. and Botswana are significant.  In most U.S. work and business situations we value meeting deadlines, achieving goals, following through, getting the job done, completing a project.  Those not with the same mind set generally end up unemployed. Let me just say it’s not the same in Botswana and I’m not sure I had enough time to understand what I was seeing and to understand the cultural issues.  I just know that Tate deals with it every day.  When she’s frustrated, she has a great coping mechanism.  She allows herself 5 minutes to cry or grieve, or curse, or fume.  Then she lets it go and moves on without discussing it further.  I need to adopt that technique for myself.

And then there’s the Peace Corps initiative… have they given these volunteers enough clear and specific guidance on working to prevent HIV/AIDS and how to conduct community capacity building? I wasn’t so sure about that, particularly after listening to several of the other Peace Corps volunteers we met along the way.   It seems that Tate has moved forward with her own good ideas- she focuses a lot of her time helping the children, which I completely agree with and support.  Talking with Jr. High and High School students about sex certainly seems to be a prudent plan of attack.  Helping kids feel good about their lives, their opportunities, their education… it’s the right thing to do.

The Bright Spots- So Many!
The light and bright spots?  The reason I suspect Tate has stuck it out this far? It’s definitely the children.   They are so bright, eager, adorable, happy, well mannered, and beautiful.  They are full of life.  I met Tate’s kids ( the 6 or 8 that live in or near her family compound and spend as much time as they can with Tate in her house), an elementary class of kids where Tate was doing a health assessment, a junior high group where Tate works on peer counseling, and a high school class where Tate teaches biology. The children are generally healthy and in good physical condition. They have so much potential. 

One of the little girls in Tate’s world simply loves to follow her around the house and mimic what Tate does.  She straightens things up, writes when Tate is writing, helps with whatever task is needed.  We started a patio project around Tate’s front door (so you can step outside without a dozen thorns piercing your feet) and this little girl just wouldn’t stop.  She wanted to build it bigger and carried far more bricks at one time than her little body should have been able to carry.  She became an engineer and figured out an excavation plan for the bricks under the gate so that the gate would still open and close smoothly.

These kids are smart.  They speak, read and write in two or more languages.  I was really impressed. It sounds cliché, but the children are the future. They deserve every leg up and opportunity they can get.  Tate has reached the hearts of many of these kids.  Is there a way to measure how many she has inspired, how many love her, how many might not contract HIV because of her encouragement?  No, but I know it’s a number far greater than one.  By the time she’s done, it may well be in the hundreds.

Lasting Impressions
If Tate ended her service tomorrow, I’d be proud of her every accomplishment and I’d be oh so happy to have her home.  If she makes it to her end date, I’ll be equally proud of her.  I know that she always does her best.  I want her to remember that her best is good enough and she’s already done Kang, Botswana an amazing world of good.  Tate is the strongest woman I have ever met.  I am in awe.

Tomorrow she’ll put on a skirt, pull her hair back in a pony tail, tuck a frozen water bottle in her bag, lock her doors, take a step off of her new patio, stop to pick the thorns out of her feet, put a smile on her face, greet the old woman lying under the tree with a “Dumela Mma”, give baby Romeo a kiss goodbye, and march forward through the sand to the medical clinic.  That’s my girl.  J 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tales (and tails) from Africa

I threw together a quick video of our trip up north... lots of incredible scenery and animals! Blogger won't seem to let me put the video clip directly on this post, but click here to watch it! 


Love & Light, 

Welcome to My World

21 days with my mom & reve FLEW BY. I absolutely loved and cherished every moment of being with them. I don't think I've ever taken them for granted before, but spending so much time away from my loved ones has made me appreciate every minute spent with them just that much more.  I cried when I greeted them, I cried when they left. I'm my mother's daughter, after all. We're good at crying. :o)

All the moments in between our tears were exactly what I was hoping for… and more. My parents got a taste of my real life as a Peace Corps Volunteer. They...
  • saw the day to day happenings - all that goes on behind the scenes of my sugar coated blog posts and photos. Don’t get me wrong - - I really do love what I'm doing - - but there are just some things (ok, a lot of things) I choose not to write home about  and they got to see all of that first hand.
  • experienced the excruciating heat in the Kalahari desert - something they never grew fond of. Don't they look happy?
  • saw one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World - a trip to victoria falls! I was amazed at the sheer amount of water pouring down the falls. I could have stood in awe the whole day - if it weren't for all the rain and spray from the waterfall! We were soaked, but I loved every minute of it.
  • observed a much slower pace of life- the American mentality of achievement and productivity, quite simply, isn't observed often in this country. Whether they enjoyed it or not, they had to slow down.
  • had quality time with their daughter - we had amazing conversations about development work, international aid, etc. I loved having time to sit and reflect upon life with my beloved parents <3

  • participated in the King's Foundation training- the King's Foundation is an organization that donates "base packs" of sports equipment to villages to encourage youth development through sports. It's an amazing way to connect with youth & my parents got to play with all the adults in my community who will use the equipment with youth in the future.
  • traveled across Botswana - and saw all the amazing African animals. Animals you might think I enjoy on a daily basis… but it was my first time to see them as well. Days full of elephants, giraffes, hippos, etc. Videos and pictures will be posted soon!

  • fell in love with the youth- and could easily see why I love working with youth development. The kids are absolutely amazing and I quote my mother saying, "That boy could be the president someday!". The youth inspires me to continue my work here… and my parents fell in love with them too.

  • enjoyed touring the Okavango delta by mokoro- could they be any cuter? I think not. Adventuring around the delta was a personal favorite for me!

  • experienced "African time"- no rush. Things happen when they happen… we spent lots of time waiting around for things - which seems normal to me- but they reminded me that it's not quite what Americans are accustomed to :o) Read a book! 

  • met my host family in Kanye -their first night in Botswana, they stayed with my host family in Kanye. It was such a treat for me to introduce my parents to the loving family who welcomed me into their lives and taught me about Botswana during my first two months!

  • played by the Baobab trees - a quick way to feel like an ant! These trees are enormous and it was a treat to stand so small beneath them.

  • stomped on thorns- no one believes me when I say the thorns are HORRIBLE here, but now they can attest to how awful they actually are. It still makes me laugh to think of all the vulgar language and frustration they experienced… at least they only had three weeks to endure :o)

  • washed laundry by hand- it grows on you - but they handled it very well. Look how happy he is to wash each piece by hand! Ha.

  • met all my little children- I like to call them my regulars. They each have their own water cup. They each have their favorite toys and activities. These  eight children bring me joy on my toughest days and drive me insane when I'm too tired to run my own daycare center free of charge. Nonetheless, these children have stolen my heart, and my parents can now understand exactly why.

  • helped complete the world map project - at the local OVC center (orphans and vulnerable children) we completed the world map project for all the little ones to encourage global education. It was a fun project for all of us! Peace Corps volunteers all around the world participate in this project… I enjoy wondering how many lives the project has touched world wide!

  • learned about Botswana- I'm proud of my little cultural ambassadors. They did very well learning the small nuances of the culture and greeted everyone properly in Setswana with the correct hand gestures. Good work, guys! There's still so much they have to learn - but then again, I say the same about myself.
  • brought me SO much happiness- their presence really lifted my spirits. This job is very daunting at times - it can really get you down. Their encouragement and kind words helped me realize that what I'm doing really is tough & I'm not crazy for feeling like it is.

I will post more in detail about their time here - our travels up north - shenanigans in my village - and my mom's perspective on me serving in Peace Corps Botswana --- but for now, I just wanted to give everyone a quick update. So grateful to have had the chance to spend time with my parents in my village - I love you guys both so much. Thanks for taking a trip across the globe for your daughter! 

Love & Light,

Friday, February 8, 2013

Volunteers Don't Get Tired

man: I'm hungry.
me: Me too.
man: This training has made me tired.
me: Yeah, me too.
man: You're tired?
me: Yes! Exhausted.
man: But volunteers don't get tired.

oh - how i wanted to laugh in his face.

what a silly joke. he obviously can't comprehend how crazy exhausting it can be to be a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Love & Light,