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.

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