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...
6/28
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,
Sunny
 
7/1/2010
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. ;)
 

 

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