Day 1 in New Xade
I've been a little disoriented trying to get into the writing-groove, so I had to write a first draft of this letter to a fellow-pcv first (shout out to Lucie, Woot!) before editing it for you guys.
I got to New Xade around 1:30 pm today and started cleaning right away. There are spiders everywhere, crawling out of every corner, hiding in the ceilings, the shelves, in cushions, I even found one under the pillow on my bed. I don't know if many of the other volunteers experienced this, but it is so eerie coming into this house and seeing everything the old volunteer left behind. The food, the spices, the books and decorations, random things like a trinket box without trinkets, old manuals, old reports, a calendar with the months crossed off and her day of departure circled. It's like I just walked in and took over someone's dusty life.
5 hours of nonstop work after I got here, and I have a clean fridge, a clean sink, and a clean pantry filled with Mpho's old stuff that I don't know how to cook (lentils, corn flour, essence of strawberry?) I've had 2 visitors so far, a family of goats who invaded my yard and left crap everywhere, and the headmaster of the school here who said she worked very closely with the old volunteers. I wish there was another volunteer here with me this year--- I say this now, only because I realize how weird it is to be totally disconnected from the world, no phone service, no friends here (yet). At first it was such a relief to not feel like I had to be “on” all the time, check my phone, text people all the time. Then I began to miss it and I realized how disoriented I am without the social anchors that give me time and place. [ at this point my counterpart came to check me. Later, I went to see the American vs. UK game at her place (did you see Green miss that goal??) Walking to my counterpart's was hands down the scariest experience I've ever had. I stepped out onto my porch with my porch light on and I couldn't see beyond the concrete patio, everything was pitch black and I realized that no one else had their outside light turned on! I guess my light was a HUGE sign to the village “New Lekoa Here!” So I turned off my light and tried to find my counterpart's house which was “the last pink house.” Except I couldn't see more than 2 feet in front of me with my cell phone's flashlight on!! But as soon as my eyes adjusted, the milkway was beautiful. Not blaring and light-giving, just simple, mellow, humble sky. ]
New Xade is pretty baller, I think. I don't know what to do with all of my space and I keep asking my counterpart what the other volunteers have done. She thinks that we'll get electricity AND cell phone service within the year, which would be really nice for her because she has a 3 year old daughter living somewhere else. I have a gas fridge (which is totally weird because at night I can see the fire burning under it) and a working freezer (for ice cream, naturally, because I can and will lug it the whole 108 km from Ghanzi in the desert), a shower (cold though, so I did the usual hot bucket bath--- ok HUGE EDIT 6/15-- MY SHOWER IS NOT COLD, I HAVE A SOLAR POWERED GEYSER, AKA HOT WATER HEATER. DON'T ASK ME HOW IT WORKS OR WHERE IT IS, I COULDN'T TELL YOU ALL I KNOW IS THAT IT'S LIKE MAGIC AND IT SPITS LIKE A CAMEL, BUT I LOOOOVE IT), and a huge beautiful property, which unfortunately is filled right now with magunda, spikey little weeds that find a way to stick to everything possible. You just brush them slightly and you are covered with them. They are painful and every time I step outside I come back limping and the Motswana scold me until I pick them off painful spur by painful spur. (Oh, and I'm mistaken about the tree-lessness of our landscape. There are some trees. I have 2. They are short, but they exist and they give my porch wonderful shade during the day)
I'm sitting on my bed now listening to Hootie and the Blowfish and thinking about all the little tasks I'm going to do to get this house Sunny-livable. If Jamie, Mpho, finds this blog, I just want to say thanks to her for leaving me the essentials. They've been a God-send given that I'm stuck here without a shop or a clue as to how to fend for myself in this town yet. And no, I don't have a post office box yet, they did not leave me the key, I believe they left it to the volunteer in Grutlang (long story, don't know what I told you all that...). However, I've talked to my counterpart here and she said I can have mail sent to the school. That is (drumroll)
Sunny "Wame" Lin
Peace Corps Volunteer
PO Box 182
Day 2 in New Xade
New Xade is new to me. It is an adventure, a foreign and strange place where the people are not only strangers, but potential thiefs, con-men, and people who take advantage. That is the way we are taught in American to view strangers, especially when traveling. Everyone will want to take advantage of us, everyone will want something from us. New Xade is to me, a scary place right now, but as I look out across my porch at the rising sun at 8:30 am on a quiet Sunday morning and reflect on the noisy children playing outside last night that I couldn't see, the sounds of cows, goats bleating and then the deafening silence at nightfall that I have never experienced before in all of my 23 years, I realized that New Xade is a strange land only to me. I am the stranger. I am the potential thief, the potential mooch, the potential person to take advantage, to hurt, and to steal.
I started reading a book called "tears for my land" which was written by a man (Kuela Kiema) who grew up in Xade and was part of the relocation movement. It is the story of his life, his struggle with relocation and the ethics behind it. As I read, I realize that New Xade is more than a foreign land, a village whose name I can't pronounce, it is a home, a place where children grow up and have grown up, it is a place full of history and despite the odds, full of tradition and culture. It is a place where the people have not yet realized their full potential, have not figured out a way to get others to appreciate their innate beautiful value. It is a place that also struggles with poverty, dependence, frustration, alocholism, and low self-esteem. It is a place where a cultural people have come to be part of a new culture, a place where children grow up, perhaps a little like me, alienated, feeling belonging-yet-unbelonging, like an immigrant.
I have much to learn outside the four concrete walls of my beautiful government house. I have yet to travel beyond my own gates. I have not even been in New Xade for more than 24 hours yet. I do not know where to begin learning. I only know that I must move beyond my books and these papers I've been given and into the stories and traditions of the people here. I must find the opportunity and the courage to step outside myself and to embrace being a stranger, instead of seeing everyone else as strangers. As much as I don't like being the stranger, it seems, I have no choice...
3 Hours Later...
I can't believe it's only been 3 hours. my morning consisted of me taking a "leisurely breakfast" of chai, apples, and bran flakes, followed by reading the first chapter of "tears for my land" followed by cleaning the living room, sweeping the house, doing laundry, and an hour of maguna-related work (more on that later), all interlaid with random sightings of goats, cows, and children and me waving and smiling like a nervous foreigner come to live with people and make friends. I have been treated with nothing but kindness here. People are not over-curious about me, they haven't come by to ask for candy or my phone number (not that it would work here), but they smile and wave, as if they know who I am (PCV's have been here for the past 6 years at least), the problem is, I still have no clue who everyone else is.
I could have sworn it's been more than 3 hours-- I am so exhausted, but apparently not. Ok-- now on to the maguna. Oh how I hate maguna. I could write a book about how much I hate these things. They only bother me because everyone has a cleaned out yard, but I've got thousands, nay millions of them. From afar they look like grass in my yard, maybe a little tall and bushy, like those caterpiller tail weeds that we see all over the parks in Jersey. Except they're not soft and fuzzy like the caterpiller weed things-- they are evil and mean and stick to everything that has any kind of microscopic pore-- plastic, rubber, foam, cloth, skin, hair, laundry. water does not get them off, only brute physical manipulation and here inlies the dilemma... You walk in my yard, gingerly stepping on the concrete patches, rocks, desert sand, a large bug or lizard (there's one in my bedroom right now by the way), anything to avoid the maguna, but magically when you are done with whatever outside task you were performing-- say, putting the laundry up to dry-- you find that you are covered in maguna from head to toe. You park yourself on a bench outside and arm yourself with leather gloves and the most amazing pair of tweezers known to man (thank you mpho) and you begin to pluck tiny little maguna pod by maguna pod from your body. Minutes pass, you decide to gingerly take off your pants so that you dont have to bend over, as you take off your pants, the maguna stick to your shirt, your hands, they fold in on the cloth so now everything you're wearing is folded over and stuck in crinkled position, bending or unbending sends the little maguna thorns further into cotton, polyester, then flesh. You finally find a position that you are comfortable in and half an hour later, are maguna free, except now your front porch, gloves and plastic tweezer are covered in maguna. dilemna. Use the gloves to remove the thorns from the tweezers, toss the tweezers indoors and the thorny gloves on the floor. Use the broom to sweep maguna off the front porch, except when you sweep, the maguna dissapear but not to where they are supposed to be. You now have a maguna sponge on a stick instead of a broom. Whack the broom against a concrete wall. Whack the broom against the concrete floor. Shake the broom furiously into the air while your new neighbors watch. Step on the broom--- damn now you have maguna all over your shoes again.
I hate maguna. What's worse is that after your done removing the pods, the really stubborn ones have left their thorns in you, and these suckers are small, sharp, sticky, and nearly impossible to remove. So, I leave them there. Ouch. My hands are practically oozing blood.
And another note-- my water is green and slightly slimey. So i'm never really sure if anything is clean. My body feels slimy in the bath, even when I use a wash cloth, my dishes, slimy, my laundry-- oh don't let me go there. Let's just say, I'm not sure if I've left a ton of slime on my clothes, or a ton of deteregent. Let's just say, i don't really care.
All this to say, however, that I do like New Xade so far. I'm excited and nervous and apprehensive about getting out there, but so far I've been taken care of and I don't feel any pressure to do anything other than what I want-- that is, stay at home, write to you guys, and clean, organize, and nest-build furiously. There is plenty to do here, things I want to do and things I don't. The house takes a while to get used to-- right now i'm not sure if I want to know what that tapping noise is on my roof. I think they're birds. I would go outside to check, but there are maguna out there. ::shudder::
6/14- Day 3
I am completely exhausted and I've not done much in terms of "community integration" today. I am overwhelmed with the little I've seen so far, and have not recovered from the trauma that was pre-service training yet. I am relishing my isolation a little too much, but everytime I go out, I meet some really great people. The only thing that makes me nervous about new xade are the children. They are really cute, but as everywhere, they are used to white people not knowing how to tell them to go away. I met some yesterday and they grabbed and pulled at me, my clothes, my shoes, and my stuff until I had to find a way to escape; they leave the adults alone, so I figured I'd just go find some real adults to hang out with until they went away. Today, while I was setting up my mosquito net, completely and utterly exhausted, I walked into my living room and there were the kids peering into my window and lifting the screen that separated them from my precious internal space. I was surprised that they had even lifted the gate and crossed my massive yard. They stared at everything in the room which was pretty much everything I owned since I haven't put anything away yet, and asked me for books, for paper, for anything that they saw and recognized. I have to admit-- I'm scared of these guys.
6/15- Day 4
I can't believe it's only been a day since I wrote that last entry. It feels like I've been here for at least a week. The kids, well, I'm now intimately aquainted with them, or at least they are with me since they seemed to have touched me everywhere on my body and taken mental inventory of all the clothing I've worn over the past 72 hours. It seems they have no qualms about coming over even when I'm not home, peering into the window for minutes on end, and taking things from my front porch-- not that I left anything valuable there, just garbage that I had swept out of my house and didn't know what to do with... well, now I know what to do with my garbage, just leave it outside and it'll dissapear eventually. That makes me laugh, cry, and want to hide all at the same time. The precious precious space I've been trying to find peace in for the past 3.5 days is being invaded by many tiny curious eyes and eager hands. I shudder when I see them coming. I actually had to hide today, squeeze my eyes shut, and hope and pray that they can't see me from the windows. Even now, I don't feel safe. It is dark outside, and cold. And I am sitting in my house trying to ignore the scary mystery that lies first outside my bedroom door, then the door separating my living space from the front parlor, then the door from my front parlor to the front deck, then beyond that, the gate. Every window is a portal for these little buggers who will be the death of me if I don't find a way to deal with them appropriately. How do you tell these children to go away without having them want to take revenge out on you? There are so many of them... so many of them... and only one of me. little me.
Note to self: Find, meet, and befriend their parents, ALL of their parents.
I want, nay, need, desperately, to talk about something else. Tomorrow is the Day of the African Child, and my office (or rather the district office for the Social and Community Development department) is putting on an event in Ghanzi. That means, I get to go to Ghanzi!! Burgers, beer, phone and internet service. God I'm excited. Is it too soon? Is it wimpy that I've only lasted 3 days in New Xade before turning tail and running? No, I don't think so. I am in survival mode, and this is definitely survival instinct. I think though that I will miss New Xade for the day or so that I am gone. I rather like my little home, normally, when it's not night time and I'm not scared that there are little eyes and little hands around every corner. During the day and I have free reign over the village, I have met the best people. The policemen, the nurses, the s&cd officers (All 1 that I met so far because all the rest are on leave or in Ghanzi this week, lol, so I really only "went to work" for 1 hour on Monday and that was the extent of my "work" this week). I've gone to the school and met the headmaster there-- actually they came and sought ME out over the weekend, so I felt right at home when I went to visit them. I've been watching the world cup games at night in my counterpart's home (she has been in Ghanzi to help with the event the past few days, and I miss her dearly, though she lets one of the policemen here use her house and I will be going there to hang with him tonight, he's cool). I baked bread over the weekend and had hella lots left over, so I gave a loaf to 2 of my neighbors, my counterpart, my workplace, and the policeman who watches the games at night. I think my presence may be causing a little bit of a stir, the children mentioned the bread today-- Give me bread, they said, make me bread. I can only imagine what some of the nice adults here must think of it. I was making a guesture, but it appears that the village is so small and so bored without electricity, internet, and cell phone service, that nothing here goes without notice-- I have no privacy. at all. whatsoever. I really hope this creeped out feeling goes away soon, and I will never make it through 2 years... AH! I keep trying to end on a good note but it always turns sour. I miss you guys.
OH, and some of you sweeter people have asked me if there is anything you can send me. Yes, there is, but not what you think. If you want to give me things (gimme gimme gimme, says the kids here). This is what I would cry if I had:
1. Physical pictures of you
2. Newspaper and magazine clippings of funny ads or cute pictures or interesting articles, or encouraging/perspective-giving quotations from famous people or not so famous people, posters... encouragement of any kind
3. Goose Island 312
4. Chipotle Burrito or Leona's BBQ Bacon Burger
5. Stretch canvases, oil paints & thinner, floor easel
6. Aunt Anne Mac and Cheese Shells, the white cheddar kind!
7. Stories updating me on your entire life, spare no gory detail
This is what I would definitely appreciate:
1. Rye seeds for rye bread
2. Constellation map so I can know what I'm looking at at night
3. Music, books, and movies that you think I'd like (including how to lose a guy in 10 days and when harry met sally or you've got mail-- I'm in no mood for anything deeper than that)
4. Sour patch kids, sour gummy worms, reese's pieces, lemon luna bars, lemon heads, anything that you've notice me eating a lot of
5. Trader Joe's Artichoke Hearts (sigh), and/or Trader Joe's pumpkin pancake mix
6. Chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, pecans, and/or walnuts
7. Asian sardines, rice crackers, wasabi peas, seaweed, oh shrimp chips...
8. Rooster Sauce, Sesame Oil
9. Recipe for Doubles and cinamman rolls (cinnamon?)
10. Instructions on how to compost
Oh! And I finally have my good note to end on: last time I was in Ghanzi, I visited a china shop (the stores run by chinese folk who sell cheap china-made products, everything from blankets to guitars to silverwear and electronics), and I struck up a conversation, in chinese of course, with the lady who works there, got a discount and I think I made a friend. Her name is Xiao Yian, Yian as in Color, and Xiao as in Small (she is the youngest of 2 sisters so I call her Xiao Yian, her name actually isn't "small," she didn't tell me her real name. This is how we do things in the mother-land, therefore, you all can actually call me Xiao Lin-- or Small Lin, but just know, I won't respond)
Loving my Chinesee-ness for once,
And again, missing you, dearly.
-Sunny, Wame, Small Lin, you know.
P.S. Again, you can now send me post at:
Sunny "Wame" Lin, Peace Corps Volunteer
PO Box 182
This goes to the primary school mailbox so please please please make sure to put my Setswana name "Wame," since no one here knows my real name, and mention the Peace Corps. I am not sure how packages will work, though I believe that I will receive a package slip and will have to pick up said package at the post office in Ghanzi-- bottom line, I will receive letters and large envelopes more easily than I will packages. But I still appreciate packages!! Just make sure when you send anything, to put either "Religious Material" or "Books" on the customs form, otherwise the package may go missing-- like the few I was supposed to receive during training that never ever got to me (All hope is not lost though, they may have been sent to the embassy and I might get them in a couple months when we all reconvene for more official peace corps training in August, oh August, you can not come sooner).
OOOH and I was told today that New Xade may get mobile phone reception in September/October! (I know I'm rambling now-- but hey I have nothing more desirable to do at the moment so I'll just keep going.) Anyway, the way it works here in Botswana (This fascinates me so if you're still reading, keep going it's exciting), is... though the whole country does not have electricity yet, the government is working on providing running water first and then electricity to all us teenie tiny villages in the middle of nowhere. The electricity is, of course, used for government offices, all of our little residential homes are not quite wired for electricity consumption, some stick huts may combust if wired (that's a joke)-- same goes with water btw, government buildings have indoor plumbing, but many private homes are not quite fitted with pipes, mud huts may melt if a pvc pipe broke (once again bad joke). Anyway, whenever electricity comes to a village, first the government buildings get hooked up and then this wonderful little company called Bemobile will SWOOP in almost immediately after and construct a tower close by. Bemobile (and this is just from word of mouth) is trying to connect all of us tiny little villages with cell phone service (Bemobile is my giant corporate hero). So, in New Xade's case, electrity poles went up in the past 2 months or so, they are doing testing (now? last month? this month? i have no idea, all i know is that the big poles hummmm once in a while but I don't see a soul working on the shiny shiny power lines). So, when I notice electricity up, the great big corporate hero in the sky will hopefully appear soon after and set me up with my lifeline to the rest of the world. Oh Bemobile, you're so strong and pretty... ahem, all this to say: this is why "poor" people in this world will more often than not have things such as nice cell phones and satellite tv even though they do not have electricity or indoor plumbing, including cell phone service. I know this was as fascinating to you all as it was to me-- it actually is pretty fascinating to me since many people are quick to jump to the conclusion that poor people have to get their priorities straight-- it is NOT so! It's just SO much easier to get tv and/or cell phone service than it is to get plumbing and/or electricity. And yes, I said TV. That's another story. You doubt me? You really want me to go on about TV?
I wish I had more to say because when I'm done that means I'll have to find some other way to amuse myself...
Oh and btw, if you wrote me a letter or email in the past week or so, you're going to get one back soon. Let's just say I've been so productive here since I have nothing to do and no one to talk to. Some of the letters are a little angsty. Bear with me. I'm a little angsty right now.