Monday, July 26, 2010

7-13-2010, 5PM
The past 48 hours have not been easy. It's odd how quickly one's mood can drop from excited and happy to reclusive and hungry (I had 5 cookies today). Today, I was a hopeless recluse. I felt guilty for not showing my face all day except for 30 minutes in the morning, but I'm telling myself it was a necessary evil. Yesterday was rough. In Ghanzi, I got to talk to some people from home, check email, update facebook, etc, and that always puts me in a bit of a funk. But this time I also got carepackages from home, which led to people from my office telling me that I am fat (from sweets) and spoiled. I was and am still indignant. Yes, I am spoiled, but not because I receive carepackages. I don't think people realize just how hard this is for us. Which sounds bratty... "You don't know how hard it is for us to give up our brilliant and glittery lives for life in your country and culture" but it's true, not because our standard of living in the good old US of A is so good, but because it's so different. Cultural cues, jokes, friendships, pop culture, food, customs, traditions, independence, gender roles, all of these things are so different here, and I'm not going to lie: I'm struggling today.
That and yesterday I had a great conversation with a policeman here I really like about the issues in New Xade and I found out that there are so many more and they run so much deeper than I first thought. Botswana culture is a culture I am still getting to know and adjust to-- San culture is something else entirely. It's a whole other people group, and also the people group that is my primary audience here in New Xade. Our 2 months of training has not prepared me for any of this. Clicking, modernization, acculturalization, it's like I was drop-kicked into a desert of an alien planet and have to start all over again from scratch. The relationships between people and among people are totally different here, the rules are foreign, no, I take that back-- there are no rules, there is no code by which I can follow and be ok. I have to fly by the seat of my pants so to speak and develop thick skin. Example: right now there are children outside my house. They came in and knocked the door down while I sat and stared, debating whether to pretend I didn't exist. I told them I was sleeping and I stood outside by them while they played on my porch. Then they asked me for food, for water, for clothes, for sweets, for anything they think I would give them. I could go one of two ways with this one: act offended and go back in or practice thick skin and say no. So I said no. I will give you nothing. nothing nothing. nothing but words.

Dear Friends,
I have just figured out the trick to living free in new xade-- I am going to be the most boring PCV that this village has ever seen.

I'm going to pretend that it doesn't bother me that 3 out of 4 of my garbage bags were stolen right out of my garbage pit today. And it doesn't bother me that I ate 11 cookies in 24 hours. Nope. Not Bothering Me.

I seem to be fluctuating in and out of a state of "profound thought" and "complete apathy." I'll have moments when I'm walking around New Xade thinking "Aha!" followed an instant later by a sinking feeling of failure, inadequacy, confusion, and a strange desire to go home and eat lots of cookies. What am I doing here? Who wants me here? What can I do here? Will I ever fit in? Do I even want to?

I'm lonely. This weekend, I was hit over and over again by the fact that even the people here I consider my friends are not really my friends in the most critical form of the word. They are people who are nice to me and I want to be nice back. But for those of you who know me, I do not open up easily and when I do, I barely if at all realize it myself. So maybe I'm lonely because I'm not allowing myself to open up to people. Maybe I'm lonely because I find it hard to trust people in general, not especially the people here. The situation is only made more difficult by the gulf of culture between us and the fact that I am, by nature, shy.

I met an Afrikanner yesterday, the foreman of the cell phone tower construction project that began last week and is supposed to finish within a month (yes, that means, potentially, cell phone service in a month!). As we talked and I recounted some of my more humiliating moments here in Botswana, something he said rang in my head as something that might be profoundly true, and if so, immensely useful-- "they will stop laughing at you once they realize you are here to do work." Once they realize you are here to do work... which means, if they know that I'm serious, that I'm here to work, that I like to work and I'm damn good at it too, they'll stop calling me baby? they'll stop picking on me and teasing me about my heritage, my language, my appearance and the fact that I am childless and fat?

Today, I made a point to unnaturally and awkwardly assert myself and the potential projects I want and fully intend to do (right now). Up until now, I had thought to keep these things a secret, lest something happens that dashes our hopes or I decide that the project is not worth pursuing-- but who knows better than the people who live and work here? the people who have already invested years and years of service into this community? So I sought more poignant and specific advice from those who would give it and shrugged my shoulder at those who were less forthcoming and I was surprised to find that the jokes, indeed, were less (though the kids still made faces at me, and followed me home). Baby steps, I'm telling myself. In time the kids will realize that I am cool. I am so damn cool.

Has it really been so long since I last updated? Last weekend was a 4 day weekend during which the village was abandoned and I had a bad asthmatic reaction to my surroundings. I am going to Gaborone on Monday to see the Doctor.

I came back to work today after a weird sort of rest (I usually sleep with 2 shirts, sweats, socks, and a sleeping bag but woke up this morning still in my sleeping bag with a shirt and my socks neatly piled next to my pillow-- I think I am so tired I am beginning to sleepwalk!).

Today was a really good day, mellow, yellow. I woke up to big blue skies with clouds, my first cloudy day in Xade, and after working on a needs assessment for a youth center here, I went out in search of advice from the few government workers who have returned from the long weekend. I found a lot, actually, and not only did I get great information on the youth center, I also found out about our VMSAC-- or village m-something s-something aids committee. (note to self, find out what VMSAC means). Then I went to the primary school and am going to help run the standard 7 class tomorrow morning (eek!). A couple of stories from my day:

1. I passed some school boys on my way to work who were yelling “china china” at me and I stopped to say, “ke tswa kwa Amerika, ga china” I am from america not china. They boy looked at me and then held his hands as if he held a machine gun-- “Amerika!” he says with a laugh “where they kill people!”
2. At the tuck shop here, I met a friend's cousin who told me about the last peace corps volunteer who she was good friends with, who she misses. None of her friends from home (another town) knows that she is here because there is no cell phone service, “They think I am dead!” she said. “A place with no network is no place at all.”
3. As I was leaving the clinic to make my way to the school around 3PM, I ran into a man who said, “Is my husband in the clinic?” I asked, “you mean your wife?” “Yes, my wife” “Who's your wife?” “Her name is Mary, she is a cleaner there” “I don't know her” “I want you to meet her.” We walked back to the clinic and Mary came out. “This is my wife,” he said, “I want to marry her, but I don't have money.” Mary looked at him, “Ke eng?” What is it? The man looked at me. “I love her,” he said “so much. Too much.”
4. At the school, I talked with the Standard 7 teacher for an hour about teaching, the basarwa, his job. This man, an optimist as I later learned, says he likes living in Xade, he likes traveling, he likes the Basarwa, and he likes teaching. And he must be good at it because he had somehow convinced his whole Standard 7 class to stay in Xade during the holiday to attend school and study for exams. He introduced me to the oldest student in the class, a shy 23 year old with down syndrome and a clearly beautiful smile. “I like Xade. When I am in Ghanzi, I can spend P400 (~80 US Dollars) on airtime talking and what what. Here, it is economical, you don't spend any money. And I am at peace here,” he said. “When I am here, I am here.”When I am here, I am here.

Peacing out from New Xade,

I am exhausted. Couldn't sleep last night. Gave my first assignment in school today though, which was nice (I really suck at teaching). Started Painting. Learned that there's a pool table in Xade (not functional, but still-- a pool table in Xade?) Going to Gabs on Monday for Medical. Definitely an off day. Appetite improving.

Today was pay day for a lot of our workers. No one was here. For once, I walked into the clinic and found no one there at all. Abandoned clinic in the afternoon. Like something out of a zombie movie.

Just saw a picture of myself-- my god I've gotten fat. and ugly...
In desperate need of a self-esteem boost.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Definitely Getting Tired of Being Called "Fat"


Happy July 4th Baretsu (everybody)!

Yesterday was a bittersweet day where a few of us PCV's spontaneously got together and listened to American music, ate corn and bean salad, cheese, and crackers, and reminisced on July 4th's-past, burnt meat, good beer, and fireworks.

On the ride home from Ghanzi, I thought about many things I wanted to tell you, but given that it's 9PM and I am really tired (and haven't showered in 4 days), I can't remember any of it except 1. When I got home, I was greeted by the kids (terror!) who saw me getting out of the back of the ambulance with my bag-fuls of food. I love food. I love everything about food. No wonder I'm getting fat. In any case, though I closed my eyes and wished with all my might they wouldn't follow me home, they did and greeted me as I struggled to get my loads of baggage into my house in the dark.

Though I was tired, I was not in such a bad mood as to feel as though I had to antagonize them, so I stayed and talked with them a bit at my front door. At one point, the same girl who I talk to all the time (under different settings, I would say she is a prime candidate for a leadership award), told me “Mpha Dijo” (give me food). “Mpha Apple.” I don't know who used to give her apples, but I had a lot, and for a moment, as usual, I was tempted to concede. But, given my experience with these kids, I couldn't. That's not what I'm here for. I should teach them to plant apples or something ridiculous like that. Plus, if I ever gave her anything, I would never hear the end of it--- which brings me to ask you this question: How can one with means say no to a child asking for food? I don't think the child was in great need of food, she is well taken care of and from what I see, she has many different families in the community watching out for her, but still-- can you say no to a child asking you for an apple? In any case, I had to close the door on them, tell them I was going to sleep, and then sneak inside in the dark. I then proceeded to eat a lot, all the time mulling this situation over in my head. That's what I love about the peace corps, I don't need to give handouts to alieve my conscience... because I know I'm already giving 2 years of my life for that.

I wouldn't exactly say today was a rough day, though it was indeed, rough. I came home and consumed about 5,000 calories to make up for the gaping hole that was bore in my heart.

After a weekend of sharing successes and failures with other peace corps buddies, I returned home excited to sleep in my own bed, shower, and be with my own community. But I have just found out that my counterpart, who I love, has been transferred and will be moving next month or so. In addition, the orphan support group that is being revived was supposed to meet today, but got postponed 3 times in one day. That is to say, I sat all day in the sun alternating between freezing and sweating as the clouds passed waiting for the board members to appear so that I can finally meet these people who's mission has become the purpose of my very existence. In the end, we rescheduled for next week and I have nothing to show for my day's work except very tired eyes and sunstroke.

Today was not a total waste. I talked to a lot of people, notably, a young man who grew up in New Xade and is now attending university as a linguist. A very intelligent, motivated, and understanding man who has a good grip on the reality of the situation here, but has escaped the alocoholism that appears to have captured the livlihood of many. As we chatted, a young boy appeared at my gate, asking for rain water (don't ask me why, the water is working today) and food. I used the opportunity to ask this man what he thought I should do-- should I give these items away? He told me exactly what I knew already, and what I believe many of you have picked up on-- best to teach these children to plant apples, etc. But it chipped at my tough raw heart a little more.

Here's the dilemma. I am here not to give children apples. I am here to teach their parents how to plant apples and encourage wayward parents to feed their children. But for every day I have turned a child away since I've been here, I have made 0% progress towards the real goal. It is easy to put a large band-aid a situation, it is far harder to find the source of the bleeding and cauderize the right vein.

The government in Botswana provides, and as far as I can see, quite generously for its people. The people of new xade have food, that is not the problem. The problem is, some parents will actually sell this food for alcohol, leaving their children to roam the streets asking their local Peace Corps volunteer for apples and putting them in this strange depressing state of psychological and emotional dissonance. When adults on the street here ask me for money so that they can buy beer, I very friendly-like smile and say no. I am not yet comfortable with that, but I am not against fraternizing with people who drink. But when a child asks me for food so that they can eat, I immediately tense and in no-time decide, No. I am unable to do that. And escape into my home. What is wrong with this picture?


Tonight is the first night that I'm not actually hungry or craving food. It also happens to the be one of the first nights that I wasn't scared shitless in my own house. To celebrate, I am eating healthy for dinner-- carrots, apples, and peanut butter (I haven't splurged on peanut butter for over a week!).

The past few days have been a whirlwind of activity. After the July 4th holiday, I returned to NX for our first support group meeting, for which I waited all day and in the end we had to reschedule because enough people didn't show up-- but what can you expect from a group that hasn't met in over 6 months (that's a guesstimate for dramatic purposes.)

Yesterday, I came home after a long kgotla meeting (town hall meeting) where "we" discussed the unusually high drop out rate at the school for 3 hours. I say "we" because it was all in Setswana, but my friends translated for me and the ultimate decision was: the community has to work with the teachers. More on this serious issue later. That night, I had my first house guests and my first non-explosive dinner. 2 S&CD (social and community development) officers from Ghanzi (my headquarters) showed up at my gate requesting accomodation for the night. They are here on a task force to assess and make recommendations for all of the income generating projects in the settlements (NX is considered a settlement, not a town). So, all day today I alternated between following "Nancy" and these 2 Ladies on projects around the town: beadmaking, basketweaving, bakery, cattle & goats, poultry.

"Nancy" and I drove into the bush and chased down destitutes who were given cows and goats in the years past to find out how many they have now. Every year "destitutes" (determined by the number of goats <15, or cows <5, you have) are given more goats and cows. We drove in our 4x4 truck through the bush, crunching small thorns underneath and driving straight through thorn trees large enough to puncture a blimp. Our driver was fearless and it was fun, and the bush, for once, was beautiful.. At one point, we had to chase down another truck, so we drove through the bush, thorns, and trees (mind you, no path or roads), straight at this guy through the sand, flooring the gas pedal and honking our big horn until we were finally sandwiched between 2 tree limbs and could not go any further. Unfortunately, none of the destitutes, even after being given many goats and cows had over the threshold that would pull them out of "destitute status.." Nancy says this is because they know that if they tell us they have less than what they really have, they will get more this year.

The beadmaking project was fantastic. I have been to the stores in ghanzi where they buy jewelry from local people and sell them to tourists, I even bought something for myself. But here in my very own village, in my very own backyard (or rather on the ground in someone else's yard behind a straw hut), there was a beadmaking group of women sitting on blankets, tending their babies, chatting, drinking tea, and making jewelry out of ostrich egg-shells and plastic bags!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Exclamation points to emphasize just how excited I am to see this. Google San ostrich egg jewelry or "ghanzi craft" to see the jewelry I'm talking about.

This whole day has been like an exlamation point in my head, "THIS is what you joined the Peace Corps for!!" to talk with local women in the shade of a large african tree with their free-butted babies waddling around playing with chickens, goats, and cows, to sit with them among the hard goat feces and watch the animals fight each other for leftover watermelon rinds; to watch a group of women on blankets in the sand under the hot hot african sun make beads and laugh and talk and drink tea while little girls try on unfinished necklaces and headbands. And hopefully, to one day join them.

And now on to the more serious part. "Nancy" (I don't like this english pseudonym I've given her so I find myself using quotes all the time), tells me that the increase in school drop out rate may be due to the fact that over 50% of the local people have been taken off of food rations. As a result, parents are telling their kids not to go to school and to come with them into the bush to find tubers. Some parents in my village do not understand the importance of education (and maybe rightfully so, because they do not see the fruits of education in this village, as jobs are hard to come by, even for the highly educated). Some of them will even be so bothered by the social workers who come inquiring about their children that they will tell their kids (in their local language, so we can't understand) not to go to school. So the difficult dilemma is not a simple cause and effect phenomenon, this village has a lot of interrelated issues-- alcoholism mingles with HIV/AIDS mingles with school drop out rates, teenage pregnancy, low self esteem, unemployment, huge cultural and lifestyle differences, poverty, politics, boredom, and even accused "tribalism" (Nancy says the trick to her success here is simply that she treated the San like human beings, with respect, which is not something they are accustomed to).

Here's the part that makes me guffaw-- the office I work in is called the "mini-RAC" or mini Rural Development Center. In it, we have the caretaker/social worker, the RADP (rural area development ..... person/officer?, aka Nancy), the agricultural demonstrator (aka "Julia"), and the Youth Officer ("Rebecca"). ALL of these people are the bomb, together, the mini-RAC explodes with productivity, cheerfulness, and friendliness every day that it is not completely empty, which is actually quite rare because most of the time these wonderful officers are out in the community or in Ghanzi to give reports. 2 Weeks ago, I found out that Rebecca has been promoted to a position in Gabs-- huge claps all around for her hard work being recognized. This weekend, Nancy and Julia were given transfers out of rural Botswana... I cried and woop!ed at the same time-- Nancy will finally be able to live with her 2 year old daughter! but Nancy, my superhero, my god-send, my counterpart from heaven is also leaving me (within the month) in New Xade, the place many botswana consider the last place they'd ever want to be... with a WHOLE NEW STAFF.

As in the words of Nancy as we hung out tonight drinking starbucks tea and eating home-made bread at my new home that I'm finally not scared of anymore-- "WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO NEW XADE?!" I told her, she can not leave me here like this.

On another note, my "flu" has turned into an asthmatic lung vomitting cough leaving me wheezing every morning and night and consuming lots and lots of tea. Tonight, I could really go for some mexican hot chocolate from Kaffeine...

Anyone? Anyone? Mexican Hot Chocolate?

Saturday, 7-10-2010
Happy 1-month anniversary, Me! Today marks 1 month in New Xade. I've been reflecting all week and trying not to be too hard on myself for not being as intergrated as I think I could be. I've realized today (while cleaning Makgunda) that the reason I seem to have an obsession with these things (Makgunda) is because it represents so much to me. No one else has Makgunda on their property except me, even the abandoned lots are much cleaner. It seems that people work hard to keep their lawns clean, and over time the Makgunda has come to represent integration, respect, and hard work to me. As if cleaning this makgunda from my yard (by my frreaking self) would earn me their respect, and prove to them that I am a hard worker and that I want to join them in their lifestyle and respect the way they live, the place we live in, and the methods they have. It's given me a chance to learn from my neighbors, borrow items, and meet people as I work all day out in the sun. Most of the time, people tsk at me when they see me covered in scars and wounds from the work, but once, once, this week, someone said to me, "You are a woman"-- compared to all of the "nana (baby)"'s I've been getting since I got here, that made all the hard work worth it.

Today I was out from 10:30 AM to 5 PM in the sun cleaning Makgunda and my yard, and cutting tree/thorn limbs with my pocket knife (an arduous but completely worth-it project). I met pockets of kids coming to check me out, and many more people who came by to get water from my tap (the water ran out this morning again). Cleaning makgunda is a physical task that I can do that makes me feel as though I am a part of the fabric of this place. That is, until I step inside and realize that I have so much further to go, that I can not even communicate with my own neighbors and they have no idea that I exist here for them. I do not know how to communicate my need and desire to get to know them. Oh, and, you guys are going to LOVE this: while I was shoveling the Makgunda from my driveway, I chopped a lizard in half. I saw it's tail fly out of the pile of dirt I was removing and freak out across the driveway, eventually banging into the curb, trying to climb up it without legs, and then dissapearing from sight. I nearly screamed and fainted right there and then.

On another note, a friend (yes a friend!) came yesterday and gave me some seswaa (aka pounded meat). Usually it's made with beef, it's cooked over a fire in a 3-legged iron pot, pounded with a stick in a wooden bucket, and cooked again, and pounded again. It's stringy and tough and oily and has dirt in it from the wooden bucket and sometimes you pull out a big piece of tendon or fat or large vein-type item that makes you shiver with slight disgust but you try to hide it because people here seem to love it and it's a thing that they give you if you visit and meat is a commodity here. In any case, this seswa was good and different because... cha cha cha, it's made from wild antelope from the CKGR, hunted by one of the locals. How awesome is that?

On yet another note, thank you thank you to everyone who has commented on my blog, written on my facebook wall, sent me emails, and sent me letters! Our headmaster came to my house today just to give me my mail and I nearly cried when I saw the letters and the package slips! I'll be in ghanzi on Monday and will pick up the packages, even if I have to wait hours for them. I am so psyched. It is so good to hear from all of you. I wanted to tell you all, that during the first few days after I returned from ghansi this week, it was all I could do to repeat to myself over and over again the advice and encouragement you have all given me. To Little-Yeung, thank you for reading my blogs even though they are RIDICULOUSLY long. To the ex-PCV's who have been keeping up with my thoughts and giving me advice, you are always on my mind. Knowing someone has been through this and that I will survive it, it gives me strength to get through another day. To all of the people who have written me emails and letters, those things are gold and I treasure and read them over and over again. And sorry to everyone about that last blog post where I called people out, I didn't mean to do that publically, it came out as I was reminiscing about life at home. I left a LOT of dear people out, please know that you are all in my thoughts and prayers every day.

Sunny or "Xo" or something like that (aka-- "White person" in G/xui)

P.S. if Sarah Bareilles EVER comes out with a new CD, please someone take point and send it to me. I love her first and only album and I am so excited to hear her talent develop.

Sunday, 7/11/2010

Going to Ghanzi tomorrow and will hopefully get a chance to post this. Just have to say one thing: I have a hankering to see Devil Wears Prada. Anyone? Anyone?

oh oh oh oh oh!!!!!!!!!! how was the sex and the city movie?????????????????

Miss you all, immensely.

Friday, July 2, 2010

3 weeks

Saturday 6/19/2010
In a way, today is not unlike many of the Saturdays I've spent in Chicago. I woke up unwillingly at 7:30 AM (to the rising sun and sounds of chicken), I spent 7:30 - 8:30 doing nothing at all, writing letters, 8:30 I got up to eat breakfast and have coffee (found out that my water is out), then I read a Nicholas Sparks novel from 8:30 - 10:30 and now I'm updating my blog.
Today is a windy, cold, deserted, winter day in New Xade. I can hear the wind battering at my windows and whipping at our concrete and brick houses outside; I know there is no use trying to integrate into my community right now. Without trees or shrubbery, the wind has nothing to blow against but sand and not even the children, goats, or chickens are out playing (though occasionally the distant sounds of children's laughter penetrate my compound). I watched this morning as my neighbors escaped to Ghanzi and I wondered how the others are faring, the "others" living in their huts made of layered sticks and wrapped up in their blankets hopefully around a little fire if they managed to collect the fire wood.
If I were adventurous today, I would go out and see them for myself, stand outside their fences made of branches stuck in the sand and wait until someone came out to greet me. "!Xio" I would say in my ever-fluent Naro. "Ee" they would say. If it was an older woman, she might start speaking to me in whatever Kua language she spoke. If it were an older man, he might smile and I would ask him how he was doing in Setswana. If it were a teenager, I'd have a conversation in Sengwish (English + Setswana), I'd exclaim about how cold it was today. She would respond with a smile and an "Ee." I'd introduce herself and ask her name. She'd respond with a click that I can barely hear let alone pronounce and I'd repeat it a few times, grimacing each time less and less until I felt satisfied with my progress. The girl would laugh and signal with a smile when I finally pronounced her name correctly. There would be an uncomfortable silence, then I would ask if she liked New Xade. She wouldn't know how to respond, since she lives in New Xade. "Yes" she'd say, politely. She might mention something about the land in the reserve where she came from, something in her language that I wouldn't understand. I'd nod and if I were feeling particuarly energetic, I'd try to pronounce that name too, but inevitably fail. If she had kids, I'd wink at them periodically and then if they were shy, they'd dissapear to a hidden part of the compound where they could watch me from a distance. If they weren't shy, they might wander over and play with whatever piece of clothing they found interesting at the time, a shoelace, a watch, the drawstring from my hoodie. After an uncomfortable silence, I'd nod, say "Thank you, it was very nice to meet you" in un-understandable setswana and head along my way either shaking my head at how awkward the interaction was, or I'd be smiling to myself thinking how, if I didn't see anyone else for the rest of the day, I'd be happy.
Unfortunately, however, I'm not feeling that bold right now and all I can bring myself to do is sit in my bed and try to avoid thinking about all the things I wanted to do today: mop my house, weed my yard, practice the setswana my coworkers gave me yesterday, take a walk around the village. I've only been awake for 3.5 hours and I'm already ready to go to back to bed. I think that's my biggest enemy here, time. Without the events and opportunities I am used to having (class, phone service, email, tv or even radio), I have no way of marking the time, minutes feel like hours, life is slow. If I learn anything this week, I should make it a goal to learn how to take things slower. Then, maybe, I would be more content and days would fly by faster; before I know it, I'll be back in Ghanzi again with access to modernity.
As I write, I hear the pitter patter of large bird feet transversing my tin roof. Pat pat pat pat pat one way, pat pat pat pat pat the other way... What are these things and why do I always hear them but never see them? Invisible children yell and scream somewhere in the village. The wallpaper on my computer shifts from one beach scene to another and Rachmaninoff echoes out from my tiny speakers. The Peace Corps told us not to have any expectations, so I never took the time to imagine what life here would be like, now that I'm actually here and have copious amounts of time, I find myself wondering, what have I gotten myself into? And with that, I have passed 30 minutes of time. On to my next activity...
I can't believe it's been so long since I last decided to write. Right now it's 9PM a little past my bedtime, monday 6/28. i've already been to Ghanzi a couple of times since my last entry. Once immediately after I got back from the Day of the African Child (june 16!) and then again this weekend, I just returned a couple hours ago. it's only been 2 weeks here but it at once feels like months and only days. Something changed in the past week, where everyone who seemed so strange looking and foreign at first began to wave to me on my way around the village. People I didn't know would call my name and introduce themselves. People who are important in this village would shake my hand when they saw me or come to visit me in my "office."
I already have a project that I think I will end up devoting much of my 2 years here to, it's the orphan and vulnerable children (OVC) support group. The village is tiny, but at the center of it is a hostel for the local primary school which houses 260 children supervised by only a few adults. The place, for someone who is right now afraid of children, is like a lion's den. Kids running everywhere, staring, mocking, eyeing with their big eyes. I was introduced to the place by my coworker, "Nancy", who I think is a super hero. Upon arrival, we learned that some of the kids had broken into the store room and stolen some food. Within 5 minutes "Nancy" had the perpetrators lined up in front of her and she casually and respectfully found out the details of the charade and dealt punishment. At that moment, my awe of her went from here (pointing to waist level) to here (on my tippy toes). Even with my new found popularity status, all of my greetings the past couple of days have been followed by a "where is Nancy?"
I'm still not quite over the "what am I doing here?" phase of settling in and I'm not sure I'll ever get there, but my house is filling in slowly with things that are more like me and my mind sometimes gets filled with exciting project ideas, though I constantly have to remind myself to focus on people rather than projects (for reasons I won't get into today). However, in the interest of filling people in on details regarding what I might be doing here, here is a list of some projects I may be pursuing:
 - getting computers/ solar batteries for the library once the electricity goes up
 - getting new books for the library
 - re-invigorating the orphan support group, including income generating projects such as beadwork and poultry/community garden project
 - starting a lady's group
 - being a part of re-starting poultry projects and the community garden for the larger community, as about half of New Xade's residents got taken off of welfare just this past year
There are some particular challenges when working in this environment, most prevalent among them being: the lack of electricity and transportation to stores (All stores are in the next town over, 108 km, and there is no formal transport system, we hitchhike), and cultural barriers. After only 2 weeks here, my american gunghoness is keeping me a motivated, but many of the Kua and Botswana here take life at a much slower pace; given that traditionally the Kua are hunters and gatherers, raising chickens and/or keeping a community garden may not be the most perfect option as far as sustainable projects go. I'm curious and eager to find out how the other PCV's before me dealt with these challenges... Any ideas? Seema, Ed, Jamie, Tina?  Lol, that's all i hear nowadays, is how much people miss you guys.
Peace out, till next time,
Happy Seretshe Khama Day! It is the birthday of our nation's founder and first President. We have the day off, and as government workers, and likely the only non-self-employed workers in New Xade, many of us are home with the flu, washing clothes, resting, and sweeping out our homes. Few cars are going in and out of New Xade today so I am home too, with the flu, relaxing and hopefully getting some outside yardwork done. I am giving myself a break from going out into the village (though I just returned a few days ago from a small vacation in town) and trying not to feel so tense about getting things done and having an impact here.
One of the volunteers who have been here for a year already told me this: don't worry so much about sustainability, just do what you have to do. And they're right, sustainability as a volunteer will drive you mad. Though that is one of the draws of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer, the opportunity to live with the people to discover and implement sustainable solutions, it is just very very hard.
Instead of going on about this, I am going to try to do something different today. I'm not sure what exactly, but I will figure it out. I just watched Seven Pounds, the 2009 film with Will Smith that made me cry. Movies, TV shows, light novels, all of these things are such a relief here in the bush, an escape to home that is familiar. At night, in my dreams, I am back in the states, and every morning I keep expecting to wake up to something different: cell phone service, coke cans that aren't 1/4" thick on the bottom, tv, tall trees, street lamps, public trash and recycling bins, Lake Michigan crashing on the beaches, bike rides in the park, crowded scantily-clothed beach goers, burgers with adult-sized patties, coke on tap, swiss cheese, mushrooms, and a good sized pickle, walking down a paved street and being invisible, walking by the murals in Pilsen, being able to pick up the phone and hear my mother's voice; these are things that, as tiresome or mundane as they are sometimes, are important things. Things that not only color your life, but should create the very fabric of it. Maybe I've pursued resume-building experiences so hard that I'd turned these important things into side-servings, forgetting that the end of all of our hardwork should be a maintenance of a good life with good relationships, instead of the other way around. Along those lines, I should also not forget that here, the end isn't the projects I pursue, but simply the living of life. The sound of wind through the trees and small birds in my yard, the feel of sweat as I burn the makgunda in the sand, the sound of a new friend calling my name, the taste of home-made bread even if it is rock-hard. Is it possible to enjoy and become familiar with these things, just as I have those things in American which I often took for granted?
Things I would enjoy if they were sent to me here:
- chocolate covered pretzels (or chocolate covered peanut butter filled pretzels)
- Chex mix (rye bread chips!)
- Private Practice & Grey's Anatomy
- Nicer Clothes
- Lord of the Rings (I've never read those)
- Nice Calendar, of Chicago Scenes!
- Bridget Jones, Love Actually & Other such sappy love movies and novels
(the Sex and the City novel?)
- Cell phone service. but Long Letters will also do.
People I am currently thinking of (don't know if calling people out by name is fair, but oh well. If I could, I would email or call all of you right now, but I can't. So this is the best I can do): Meryl, Maggie, Jean, Mary, Elyse, Anita and Kruts, Mom, Dad, Dan, Steph, Luanne from LCHC, all the interns and Julie and Ted and Bruce and Wayne from LCHC, Felicia, Vivian, Ian, Cindy, Suanne, Christine (did you ever hear from Dr Mike?), Dr Mike, Gladys and Olga, Jen and Cassie, Caroline Na, Caroline Guo, Rachel!, Carolyn, Stacey, Louisa... Just letting all of you know. I hope you're all doing ok and I miss you so much. And again, letters that I send home are just a snapshot of neuroticism and life here, so if anything in there alarms you or I say things like "maybe I'll come home" or "I hate so and so" take it with a grain of salt. I dare not even read some of the stuff I've written to you guys. Emotionally, our lives here just go up and down and up and down so often, if you catch us in a bad moment (and every moment I stop to reflect ends up turning a little sour- unfortunately that's just my personality), you may begin to think that things here are harder than they really are, but they're not. The happy times happen when I'm not at home by myself writing letters, rih?
Love, Sunny
And in case I haven't posted it enough, my address here is PO Box 182, Ghanzi, Botswana. My phone number +267 7262 7393
8:40 PM
What a day. Probably one of my best days here yet, though I miss the solitude that I've come to enjoy on most of my days here. After watching a movie, eating massive amounts of food, clearing makgunda from my yard for 4 hours, I received a visit from a new friend for another 4 hours, followed by another visit from "Nancy" for yet another 4 hours, followed by me visiting "Nancy" and her awesome friends at her home to watch Generations (the local soap opera with a cult following) and finally retiring at my house for the night now to pack and prepare for a trip to Ghanzi and possibly Maun tomorrow. We talked about everything from the Kua culture to Botswana Culture, vacation, religion, American money, family...
2 Things I wanted to Share:
1. I had the most profound thought while I was clearing the Makgunda today. It was at first very satisfying because the Makgunda was thin in some areas and I found that I could pull each plant out with one swoop of the shovel as long as I positioned the blade of the shovel directly below the roots; a very shallow movement would pull the plant right out of the ground with a satisfying "crunch." As I thought about this and worked my way from the thin areas of makgunda to the thicker ones, I had begun to realize that though I was working quickly, my shoes were covered in thorns, like a Makgunda cloud, I ended up walking home on about 4" makgunda shoe-soles. At that point, I realized: I had been so focused on pulling out those roots, that I was stepping all over the thorns. I had a thought-- Isn't that just how I go through life? So focused on the roots of things that I forget the immediate dangers? Like this sustainability thing, if I focus so much on getting to the roots of many of the problems here (a task that volunteers, anthropologists, government and ngo workers have been trying for years), I will inevitably end up burned out and covered in thorns because I've neglected the here and now.

2. Second thing I wanted to share. I'm totally drawing a blank. Was there even a second thing or did Makgunda fever finally get the best of me...? OH yes. So "nancy" has been away for a few days and she finally came back, to my immense happiness, yesterday. I went to visit her at her house last night, and she visited me today. Well, when she came, we were chatting away and I mentioned that I was probably gaining weight because I eat so much here and do nothing else. She laughs a sigh of relief and says, "Yes! I thought yesterday when you came over. 'Eh! What has Wame been eating! She has gotten fat! Maybe she is wearing lots of clothes because it is winter. I will ask her about it at her home." Then later, after we had a good laugh, "Eh! Yesterday! I thought maybe you were fat because you had been wearing a lot, but then you took off your Jersey and I thought, Ao!! Wame has gotten FAT!" So, my dear friends, lovers, countrymen... Wame is FAT!!
Sigh. It must be all that chocolate I eat every night. And the whole milk I drink every morning. And the cookies I eat in the afternoon. And the pasta dishes in the evening. Curse you maladaptive coping strategies. You suck. Now I'm depressed... and hungry again. ;)