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.

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