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 

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