Saturday, June 12, 2010

An Official Volunteer

Dear friends from the office, home, chicago, students, readers, and random strangers.

On Thursday, amidst a crowd of singing Botswana, proud parents, prouder teachers, and trainees with bittersweet looks on their faces, we repeated the oath of Peace Corps Service in front of the US embassy and officially swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers. I say bittersweet because after 8 weeks of endless hours together repeating the words “dumella” in 20 different incorrect ways, we are now parting for the very ends of this now seemingly-endless country to serve (most of us in isolation) for 2 whole years. My new family and I will see each other maybe a couple times a month which seems daunting and unfamiliar given how we have spent every waking moment together for the 8 weeks.

As our truck pulled out of my host families and I waved goodbye to my host family, Tshepo (“Promise,” 2), Bofelo (“Last Child,” 4), Tshepiso (“A Promise made to a person,” 23), and Ntsatsi (meaning “Sun”, my mother), I felt at once saddened that I never was able to reach the level of communication I had hoped to achieve with these wonderful, generous people. But I left with the promise of returning, keeping in touch, and hosting them should they choose to travel the 9 hours to visit me in the desert.

I write this sitting in the round house of another PCV stationed in Ghanzi, Chloe (Shoutout to her mother who Chloe says found my blog!). I spent the night at her place since we got in after dark (can you imagine driving 200 km in the desert in the pitch black where you can't distinguish the trees along the side of the road from the cows, goats, guinea fowl, and donkeys who tend to run into your car?). Today (hopefully) I will be able to go my site, New Xade and begin my own service.

Once again, I reiterate, no cell phone service. New Xade is a place full of history and politics. It is a resettlement village that I am told has a rich culture and many rewarding friendships if I am willing to find ways to integrate myself into their community. I am told that I will learn a lot, if I can be patient enough to get through the days where my only accomplishment will be washing my own clothes, or finding my way around the village. I will be living in sand, heat, and tree-less conditions where many of the people I am serving live in stick huts (“Bosarwa” is a term given to label the many tribes of San people, it means literally, “people of the sticks” though the many tribes of the Bosarwa do not consider themselves of the same group. Same goes with the language “Sesarwa”. There are actually 20 something different kinds of “Sesarwa” or language of the people of the sticks, and often they are very distinct from one another. Or so I'm told)

And now for the story I wrote for you all a week ago before I had my computer... It's called, “A scene from my PST (pre service training) life” Ahem ahem...

It's 6pm and pitch black in Molepolole. A neighbor's oversized stereo cackles with Celine Dion's “My heart will go on” while a hundred of the surrounding chickens join in on the chorus. I'm standing in the concrete living room, arms full of stiff laundry, laughing deliriously because I've just realized that despite 2 hours of bending over the bathtub on my knees, swishing and swashing, all of my clothes have absorbed the smell of burning garbage from the pit in the yard. I pause to scratch the ring of fungus growing on my face when I feel a pull on my sweatpants. I look down and see my niece, Tsepo who is sitting on my foot. She's spent the past 10 minutes spinning herself in circles and collapsing on the group in a fit of giggles while my brother chants a song that ends in the words “Squash Squash” and rhythmically pats himself and his unamused older brother on the head.
I shuffle into my room and reappear moments later, laundryless. I stand in the doorframe and contemplate my family watching “My Star” the Botswana equivalent of American Idol on TV. The ringworm on my cheek calls out to me and I am simultaneously disgusted by it and amused at the thought of a million little trees growing on my face. II haven't eaten dinner with my family for 3 days because I've had diarrhea but I notice it less and less as my stomach shrinks. I let out a stifled laugh as the contestant on “My Star” begins singing Aladdin's “A Whole New World” to a crowd in a college auditorium that's never seen Aladdin before. Plus, she's wearing a Micheal Jackson costume, complete with white cotton gloves and hat. I pick up Tsepo who is still spinning and giggling and she lunges for my face and rubs the medication I've put on the ringworm. “Tlatswa Deantle!” I yell, trying to say “Clean your hands!” She giggles at me, rubs her hands together, and shows me her hands. I debate bringing her to the bathroom and holding her over the sink, then I think, screw it, the little bugger probably gave it to me in the first place... then Tsepo looks down at my chest and her eyes grow big. She grabs my shirt, “Bomaloma di dintle!” she says (I butchered the setswana there). I guffaw, not because of what she said, but because I actually understood it. “Your boobs are beautiful.”
I look at my family, mesmerized by a woman belting “IIIIIII will always looove yooooou” as she hits a too-low-high “you” I put Tsepo down and muster up the energy to say, “Boroko” or Good Night. My older sister turns around “Ee” (yes) and turns back to the TV. I shuffle a few steps backwards into my room and look around again. “Robala Sentle?” I say again (Sleep well). Tsepiso turns around again, “Ee.” Convinced that no one will miss my American presence I shut the door with a loud screech and leap into bed. I stay awake for another hour in the dark, munching on crackers that my brother sent and thinking about ringworm, diarhea, and then nothing at all. Tomorrow I will wear matching socks. On days when I want some semblance of being sane, I wear matching socks...

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